Photo by Brian Vaughan
Provenance of Dish
If there's one thing you can say about Sparassis, it's that it can tolerate a long, slow simmer and still maintain its wonderful chewiness. I created this dish after stumbling upon a nine pound specimen during a rainstorm on the Northern California coast. Like an iceberg revealing only its tip, the mushroom was mostly buried. A long-simmering recipe that took longer than the cleaning seemed appropriate!
2-3 ounces dried cauliflower mushroom
2 cornish game hens
aromatics of your choice (optional)
1 medium onion, sliced into half rounds
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 cup dry white wine
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon each butter and white flour (optional)
2-4 tablespoons cream (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley for garnish
Place the dried cauliflower mushroom into a 2 quart saucepan and cover well with water. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. I like to do this part the night before and leave it on the stove, covered, overnight.
When cool, drain the mushrooms over a bowl, reserving the broth.
Dry the hens and sprinkle the insides with salt and pepper. If you’d like to add aromatics, feel free! I like a quarter of a lemon and/or a few pinches of herbs de Provence or thyme. If you have fresh herbs, by all means use them. Truss the birds, tying with kitchen string, lightly salt and pepper the outsides, and set aside.
Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a skillet and sauté the garlic and onions together over medium heat until the onions are translucent, about 2-3 minutes, sprinkling with salt while cooking (a few pinches should to it). Transfer to the bottom of a slow cooker.
Wipe the skillet, return to medium heat, and toss in the mushrooms for a brief dry sauté. After a minute or two, sprinkle with salt. When the mushrooms are lightly browned, add a few tablespoons of the reserved mushroom broth and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the broth is gone. Transfer to the slow cooker.
Add two tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet and brown the game hens, turning so that all sides are slightly golden, and tuck them into the slow cooker atop the onions and mushrooms. My slow cooker is tall and narrow, so I place them on their sides. Pour 1 cup of the reserved mushroom liquid and the white wine over the top, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon thyme and a bit of salt and pepper, and turn the slow cooker to high. Cook until the hens are done, about 3-3.5 hours. If you are a thermometer person, the thigh temperature should reach 165.
Remove the hens from the slow cooker and let them rest a few minutes. Then slice each one in half and slide under the broiler to brown the skin. Meanwhile, drain the cooking juices from the slow cooker into a saucepan and add 1 cup of the reserved mushroom broth. Simmer strongly over medium heat, stirring frequently, until reduced to your liking. For a thicker gravy, add 1 tablespoon butter and sprinkle 1 tablespoon flour over the mixture and whisk vigorously to blend. When reduced, add cream if desired. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
Spoon the mushroom and onion mixture into wide, shallow bowls, place half a hen on top, pour the gravy over and around it, and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with an extra bowl for the bones, which can be simmered after dinner into a rich, delicious broth for later use. Enjoy!