Sunday, December 11, 2011

Peppercorn-Encrusted Portobello Fillets

I finally got my hands on Tal Ronnen's award-winning cookbook, The Conscious Cook. Growing up eating steak, Tal has mastered veganism the right way: "creating meatless food that is just as mouth-watering and delicious as anything I'd ever had as a meat eater," he affirms in the Introduction to his cookbook. His inventive creations include a "chicken" scaloppini, old bay tofu cakes, and the recipe below: Peppercorn-Encrusted Portobello Fillets.

Because of its meaty texture and porous nature, portobello mushrooms soak up juices and spices beautifully; similarly to a steak fillet. Cooked the way you would the latter, and voila: your simple vegetable has just transformed into a hearty, juicy steak! Without the artery-clogging, cholesterol-rasing saturated fat, that is. Served with mashed potatoes, half way into this delicious meal you won't even remember that you're actually eating meatless.

Tal's recipes are exceptionally detailed and require a lot of ingredients, so I tried to simplify the dish a bit below. I did not make his béarnaise sauce that accompanied the portobello fillet, because I felt that the dish a jus was flavorful enough on its own to meet satisfaction.  I did, however, add some balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard into the leftover marinade to include some elements of the béarnaise in my sauce. Halfway through though, I got a ketchup craving and indulged- that's how "meaty" this dish is! 
The marinade is your traditional mix of garlic, shallots, dry white wine and vinegar, so the peppercorn and thyme crust is what makes this recipe truly outstanding. The crunchy coating serves as the perfect encasement to the tender portobello inside of it. 


Peppercorn-Encrusted Portobello Fillets
Yield: 4 servings


Ingredients:
Marinade:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 portobello mushrooms, stemmed, gills removed
Coating:
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar and pestle or with the back of a spoon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

Directions:
Make the portobello fillets:
1. Place a large pot over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with a pinch of salt and heat for 1 minute. Add the oil and heat for 1 minute, being careful not to let it smoke. This will create a nonstick effect.
2. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wine, vinegar, and 1 cup water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute. Pour the mushrooms and liquid into a shallow container, cover, and set aside to marinate for 1 hour. (or 20 minutes? That's all I did, and I think it was adequate. Obviously the more it marinates the more flavors the mushroom will soak up, but don't balk if you're in a hurry.)


Sear the mushrooms:
4. Remove the mushrooms for the marinade and press between paper towels or in a cotton dish towel to remove the excess marinade. Save what's leftover in the container. Sprinkle with the crushed peppercorns, salt, and thyme, pressing the seasoning into both sides of the mushroom pieces.
5. Place a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute, then add the mushrooms in one layer, working in batches if necesary. Cook until browned and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

Assemble the dish:
6. Slice the mushrooms in the bias into 1/4 inch slices, keeping them intact a the base. Fan each mushroom out. You can lean it against a scoop of mashed potatoes or another side to prop up the mushroom. Add balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard to leftover marinade to taste (optional), and spoon sauce over the top and drizzle it around the rim of the place.

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