During Phase II of culinary school, we occasionally had guests instructors. Without a doubt, the most memorable teacher for me was Shirley O. Corriher. When Chef Patrice told us she’d be speaking, I didn’t immediately recognize her name. However, the moment she walked into our classroom, I was filled with star struck recognition.
Shirley is a food scientist who was often featured on early seasons of Alton Brown’s Good Eats. Hardly a major celebrity, but I was smitten. As I watched and took notes, she demonstrated how to prepare her “tender flaky biscuits” (a single bite, fresh from the convection oven justified their name).
When she began talking about umami, it was hard not to notice Chef Patrice smirking in the back of the classroom. You could feel hot coals of disdain radiating off him. Not one to stray from classic French technique, Chef had made it abundantly clear that he believed umami was a joke, and our guest instructor was contradicting him. He began interjecting challenges, and Shirley’s responses were light hearted and charming. It was her lesson and she owned it. I loved her.
Despite what my Phase II chef believed, umami is legit. Translated from Japanese, the word literally means a “pleasant savory taste.” I recently took a class on umami where we sampled various soy and tamari sauces to compare umami levels. When viewing it as the fifth taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salty, it is perceived through receptors specific to glutamate and total nitrogen. In addition to soy sauce, good sources of umami include (but are not limited to) cheese, cured meats, broths, fish (and fish sauce), tomatoes, seaweed, fermented products, and mushrooms.
Adding umami to recipes is an excellent way to replace the “meaty” savoriness that’s lacking in many vegetarian and vegan recipes. Mushrooms are a perfect main ingredient in vegetarian pot pie. If you’re not vegetarian, you can use a chicken stock in place of the vegetable stock to add even more umami. Caramelizing the mushrooms in the first step intensifies the savoriness. I’ve used crimini mushrooms, but any variety will work in this recipe. Shiitakes, portobellos, oysters, button mushrooms… you can also try using a mix. The truffle oil is optional, but I recommend it. I’ve used such a small amount that it won’t overwhelm the other flavors. In fact, you will barely notice the flavor, but it creates a subtle, worthy enhancement.
- 4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 12 ounces mushrooms (approximately 4 cups), quartered (I used crimini, see notes)
- 2 cups yellow onion (approximately 1 large), finely chopped
- ¾ cup celery (approximately 3 ribs), finely chopped
- 1 cup carrots (approximately 1 carrot), finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- 2½ cups vegetable or chicken stock, either homemade or low sodium
- ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- optional: ½ teaspoon good quality white truffle oil
- leaves from 3 springs of thyme
- ¼ cup packed flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 sheet puff pastry
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Heat a large dutch oven or heavy bottom saucepan over low heat, and add 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the mushrooms along with a pinch of salt and sweat them, stirring periodically, to release some of their natural liquid. After the mushrooms have softened up, approximately 3-4 minutes, turn the heat up to medium and allow them to caramelize for several minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the pan, set aside, and turn the heat down to medium-low.
- Melt the remaining butter over medium-low heat and add the onions, celery and carrots. Cook for 5-7 minutes until soft, then add the garlic and cook for an additional minute, stirring periodically. Add the flour and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the brandy, stock, paprika, and cooked mushrooms.
- Bring to a simmer and allow the sauce to thicken, stirring periodically, for 3-5 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and remove from the heat. Add the truffle oil (if using), thyme, and parsley. Stir in the salt and pepper. Taste; add more if desired.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Divide the filling into 4 souffle-sized ramekins (approximately 4x2 inches) and place on a baking sheet.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry thin and cut 4 rounds approximately ½ - 1 inch larger than the width of the ramekins. Brush egg wash on the rim of each ramekin and ½ inch down the sides. Top with the puff pastry, folding the excess over and gently pressing it against the ramekins (a fork can also be lightly pressed against the puff to help seal it to the dish). Brush the top of the dough with egg wash and use a small knife to poke 3 small holes in the top of each pot pie.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Allow to cool briefly before serving.