Mark Hix Does Wild Mushrooms

Foraged mushrooms are one of autumn's culinary highlights. Put them with rosted partidge in this belter of a dinner

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"I've been keen on foraging since the early days of my career in London, when Italian waiters used to bring baskets of ceps into the hotel, which they had foraged on Wimbledon common. This inspired me to invest in the invaluable Roger Phillips mushroom book (a comprehensive guide to what to look for when foraging), which I still use to this day.

I liken foraging to fishing: sometimes you strike gold and sometimes you don't. There is an air of excitement when you enter the woods, much like the moment your lure hits the water. I often find mushrooms in completely unexpected places. For instance, in-between drives on a shoot my eyes will start to wander and scan the ground as I'm walking and chatting. This happened last year on a shoot in Dorset when I came across some scarlet elf cups, which are bright red and tiny. There was initially some disbelief among the party, but after five minutes they were all scanning the ground in the woods.

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Wild mushrooms are an expensive ingredient if you buy them from a deli or specialist shop, so foraging your own is certainly a money-saving pursuit and good exercise. If you are new to foraging, make sure you go with someone who knows what they’re doing. There are many dangerous mushrooms that look very similar to delicious edibles, and the last thing you want is to have to call a doctor for your dinner guests…"

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Roast partridge with wild mushroom ragout (pictured above)
Serves 4
The earthy taste of mushrooms makes them the ideal game partner. Here, the partridge legs are removed and finished off along with the mushrooms.
 

4 oven-ready partridges
2 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
60–70g butter
1tsp flour
100ml white wine
400ml chicken stock
200ml double cream
150–200g wild mushrooms, cleaned and cut into even-sized pieces
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 | Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Rub the partridges with a little of the butter, season and place in a roasting tray. Roast for about 15 minutes, and turn the birds as they are cooking so that they colour evenly– keeping them nice and pink.

2 | Meanwhile, melt a little more of the butter in a pan, and gently cook the shallots for a couple of minutes. Stir in the flour, then gradually whisk in the wine and chicken stock to avoid lumps forming.

3 | Simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove the legs from the partridge and remove the feet. Cut the legs in half at the joint, add the cream to the sauce then simmer gently for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the rest of the butter in a pan, cook the mushrooms on a medium heat for 2–3 minutes then add to the sauce and continue simmering for a few minutes.

4 | The sauce should be about the consistency of double cream. If it's too thick add a little more stock; if too thin, continue simmering until it thickens. Season to taste. To serve, remove the breasts from the partridge, spoon the sauce onto serving plates with a thigh and drumstick on each, and arrange the breasts on top.


Creamed Polenta with Ceps
Serves 4
Light and creamy polenta goes perfectly with simple, pan-fried wild mushrooms, served as a starter or even a main. If you can’t get ceps, any other wild mushroom — or a selection — will do.

1kg good quality clean ceps or other seasonal wild mushrooms
90ml extra virgin olive oil
90g butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
10g parsley, stalks removed, washed and finely chopped

1 | Bring the milk to the boil in a thick-bottomed pan then add the garlic, bay leaf and seasoning. Simmer for another 5 mins then whisk in the polenta. Turn the heat down as low as it will go, and cook slowly for 10 mins, whisking every so often so that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the cream and parmesan and cook for a further 5 mins. Once cooked, put the polenta into a clean pan if necessary, cover, place to one side and keep warm.

2 | Avoid washing the ceps if possible, as they become like a sponge. If they are a bit sandy, scrape the stalks with a small knife then wash very briefly in a bowl of water, and dry immediately on some kitchen paper. Cut the ceps into quarters or 1cm slices.

3 | Heat the olive oil in a thick-bottomed frying pan, then cook the ceps, a couple of handfuls at a time, for 3–4 mins until nicely coloured. Add the butter, salt and pepper, garlic and continue to cook for another minute or so, then add the parsley at the last minute.
Finally, put a good spoonful of polenta on a plate then spoon over the ceps.