Food is always on my mind but never more so than when I’m traveling. What local specialties can I try? What cool ingredients can I track down? What can I eat that won’t kill me or make me insanely ill? (It took only one meal in Delhi, after which I had an emergency doctor’s visit, IV drip and 3 days bedridden, to add that question to my list.) Since I’m a pescetarian, I also wonder whether I can order dishes without meat. On a recent trip to the meat-loving lands of Poland and Saxony Germany I found that last criteria surprisingly easy to meet. Along with bratwurst, kielbasa, pork knuckle and hunter’s stew, restaurants, bars and food stalls served sautéed mushrooms.
Since at least the Middle Ages mushrooms have played a part in Poland’s cuisine. In the past people went out into the surrounding forests and gathered as many edible mushrooms as they could find. Once at home they brushed them off and started cooking. Mushrooms made their way into soups, sauces, dumplings and stuffed cabbage. They were paired with meats and fish or served on their own.
Centuries may have passed but the passion for mushrooms remains. Along with the above dishes they appear in Polish pierogies and the pizza-like zapiekanki and across the border in German rye bread bowls.
On this recent trip I usually went for a simple plate or bowl of sautéed mushrooms. That might sound a bit dull but every town and holiday market had a different approach on how to cook mushrooms. In Krakow they were simmered in a broth of water, onion powder, salt and dried dill or fried in butter alongside minced onions. In Dresden, Germany they were sautéed in oil with salt and pepper and then topped with a garlic-dill-sour cream sauce. Meanwhile, cooks in the German border town of Görlitz added paprika, ground mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper to their mixtures. The results were all amazing.
Although I gorged on mushrooms for two weeks, as soon as I returned home, I set out to recreate my favorite sautés. Eventually I landed upon a combination of several recipes, the result of which is below.
POLISH AND GERMAN-STYLE SAUTÉED MUSHROOMS
To make this a vegetarian offering, replace the butter with olive oil.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup minced onion
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
9.5 ounces white mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons water, or more as needed
In a large frying pan melt half the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and half of the salt and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onion has softened but is not browning.
Add the mushrooms, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and 2 tablespoons water. Stirring periodically, cook until the mushrooms have softened and released some of their juices, about 10 minutes. If the pan and mushrooms become too dry, add more water. You want a small amount of sauce in the pan but you do not want a soupy mixture.
Once the mushrooms have softened and browned slightly, remove the pan from the heat. Place the mushrooms in a large bowl or on individual plates. Serve warm.