Sh*tty Sh*tty Din Din

24 Apr

Saturday night’s dinner was an unequivocal flop.

But, it could have been worse, I could have poached my mortality in a cream sauce, I could have killed both myself and the boy.

Allow me to explain…

I was feeling good on Saturday. I had foraged well at the Farmer’s Market. Ramps! Sorrel! Shallot Cress! Baby Mustard Greens! Pheasant Eggs! (I was also toting along some scallops and PG Tips, but they were definitely not from the green market).

My head was spinning with the possibilities, what to make for dinner. Scallops in sorrel sauce with cream braised morels (ah, but Ann you say, there’s no morels in that list… patience my friend, we’re getting there)? Scallops floated on a sea of risotto made of greens? Pasta with ramps and scallops? Mmmmm… they all sounded so good, but, being a slightly greedy person, I wanted more, I wanted more spring goodies to cook with!

So, on my walk home, I stopped off at SOS Chefs, the super chic epicurean wonderland on Avenue B just off Tompkins’ Square Park. This little shop that looks like its been dropped into the East Village by way of Paris is the stockist to the areas chef-ian stars. I’ve seen folk from wd50 in there, and that’s pretty big (but I digress).

So, I bop into the store and say, “I’d like some morels please!” One of the girls walks to the back of the store, beckons me to follow. She ducks into the walk-in cooler and comes out with a box of seriously sad looking morels.

In her super cute french accent she says “All ze chefs have bought ze morels for their weekend menus.” I should have just left then and there, c’est la vie and what not, but I did not.

Her co-worker pops up and says, “Why don’t you try some gyromitras?”

I say “What are they?”

“They’re false morels. They grow in the Northwest. They’re delightful, you cook them just like you would real morels!”

Again, I should have just left, but, I didn’t. So, the guy goes into the walk-in and comes out with a box, full to the brim with what look like slightly uglier morels. Now, shouldn’t I have been suspicious right here and now? If they’ve sold out of morels, and the chefs all want morels, don’t you think they would have accepted the gyromitras as a substitute? I’m getting weird vibes off the man and the woman helping me. There was something wrong with their body language. Call it women’s intuition, but I was getting a bad vibe.

As the woman was scooping pretty fungi into a brown paper bag, I ask the guy “So, is there anything special I should do with these? How do I clean them? Are there any special preparation suggestions? Are they like morels, toxic when raw?”

“No, nothing special, just run them under some water, check into their little folds and make sure you get all the dirt, then cut off the end and cook just like morels.”

Sweet, I’m thinking as I walk home, I’ve found the mother lode, the gift horse, the proverbial goose! At only $15 per pound, this could become a real addiction!

Sometime in the intervening 8 blocks, I decide that I’m going to leave the mushrooms for a decadent Sunday night dinner and that tonight, I’m going to make scallops in sorrel sauce with a ramp and orzo “risotto” served over a bed of shallot cress. Only problem is, I don’t know how to make sorrel sauce. So once home, all the goods stowed in their proper berths, I settle into my favorite activity, thumbing through my copious cookbook collection, gleening knowledge and settling on a menu.

My first stop for all strange and unusual vegetables and fruits is Elizabeth Schneider’s indispensable tome Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide. It’s a huge book and a joy to read. As I was flipping towards her entry on sorrel, I came across the page on morels, I glanced for nary a second, but, then, I flipped back… Something had caught my eye. In fact, it was this sentence:

Beware of false morels or Gyromitras; in the West they are generally safe, if cooked, but in the East and Midwest the species isn’t always edible.

Hmmmmmm… fascinating…. I don’t really enjoy phrases like “generally safe” and not “always edible”. So I decided to research further. I began coming across phrases a little less gentle in nature more like:

most poisonings occur during spring or early summer.

playing a game of Russian roulette… Do not feed this mushroom to others without fair warning.

The poison in false morels is MMH, or monmethylhydrazine (a chemical also found in rocket fuel).

cooked in a well ventilated area to avoid breathing any monomethylhydrazine that might be present and the cooking liquid should be discarded.

Okay, so I think you’ve probably got a handle on the level of panic to which I had risen about my “gift horse”. Dear god am I glad I looked that one in the mouth! I was so skeeved out, I took them right out of my fridge, put them in a bag, tied it up and decided I was too scared to even keep them around my apartment until Monday when I could take them back to the store and give them a good scolding.

What on EARTH are they even doing SELLING something that could KILL me over the course of a painful 2-7 days? First, bloating which leads to massive internal problems, coma and then death? Right in time for my 11 day trip to Croatia?

I’m so obviously an amateur cook, and I’m pretty sure I asked the right questions about these little pods of poison. Perhaps the store doesn’t realise what they’re doing? Either way people, I’m p*ssed!

They nearly poisoned me, AND they ruined my dinner! I totally lost control of my cooking abilities. I overcooked the scallops, I let the sorrel sauce break, then tried to reconstruct it, which was a terrible mistake. I didn’t have time to make a vinaigrette for the shallot cress. The only thing that was even close to edible was the “risotto”. I think ramps make everything better!!

The boy choked everything down and said it was good. He’s such a trooper! At least I redeemed myself with last night’s soup (more on that later)!

The moral of this story is this, Whenever you buy something you’ve never heard of and seems too good to be true, PLEASE do some research before jumping in and cooking it. The world doesn’t need dead bloggers!


9 Responses to “Sh*tty Sh*tty Din Din”

  1. Pamela April 24, 2006 at 6:56 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this story it’s a real eye opener!! I can’t believe how irresponsible those vendor were selling those things!!

    So glad that you had the good sense to check out the details before eating them, after having bought them from a “reputable” store I’m not sure if I would have.

    It’s not worth even considering what could have happened if you hadn’t.

    There is definately a lesson to be learned from this.

  2. Julie April 25, 2006 at 2:36 am #

    OMG! I’ve heard of people accidentally collecting poisonous mushrooms in the wild, but I’ve never heard of a store selling them. That’s a wild, wild story.

  3. Sher April 25, 2006 at 6:14 am #

    Good lord!!!!! That’s pretty scary–no, very scary! I’m very sorry that it affected the rest of your dinner too! I would be very pissed, that store needs to make amends.

  4. s'kat April 25, 2006 at 5:09 pm #

    Those folks are pandering some seriously bad karma!!

  5. caveman April 26, 2006 at 6:28 pm #

    I love mushrooms and live in the middle of the woods where (rumour has it) there are over 20 types of great comestible ‘shrooms. But I have the fear cuz they never quite look exactly like the book, or it looks like either the comestible one or the one that will make your hair fall out, and …and now this story, i might be best off chancing it in the woods… I

  6. ann April 27, 2006 at 1:22 am #

    every last one of your comments are right on the money, and I’ve been thinking about this a little more… it doesn’t merit another post, but allow me to step onto my soapbox for one moment

    so, i purchase these vile little fungi at a highly respected shop, so tied into the culinary scene in the Lower East Side and East Village that their name is SOS Chefs
    I am a sucker for anything served with mushrooms… have I eaten these before? Chefs rarely say what mushrooms exactly are in their “mushroom melanges”
    Is this guy selling these ‘shrooms to chefs, and are chefs placing them on their menus, not telling people they might get sick from their dishes?
    and even if they DID list “gyromitras” as part of their mushroom melange/risotto/soup/etc, would most foodies even know what they are?

    its kinda off putting, and making me think twice about my all time favorite menu item

    oh and Bill, you should find a forager friend and have them show you exactly what mushrooms you should and shouldn’t eat from your backyard
    we had morels growing in the yard of the house I grew up in
    nothing, and I mean NOTHING, taste quite as wonderful as mushrooms from your own little private glen!

  7. becky April 30, 2006 at 5:00 pm #

    Hi! I’m a VERY amateur cook, and a professional fungus geek (mycologist by training). I can tell you that when I got to the sentence, “Her co-worker pops up and says, “Why don’t you try some gyromitras?”, I said out loud, “Oh NO!!!”

    So glad you avoided that whole mess. I can not believe they are selling those! And, even among people who have eaten gyromitras, I have NEVER heard “prepare them just like morels!” I’ve heard “Welllll…we boil them a LONG time.” (In which case I have to wonder, why eat them? But I digress).

    First time I’ve found your blog. Love it!

  8. Luke April 30, 2006 at 6:53 pm #

    I can sympathize with your excitement about a cheaper substitute for morels! Each year around this time I wait in anticipation for the springtime morsels of goodness- Morels.

    I love to prepare them by sauteing them in butter and adding a tad of white wine.

    They are so delicious! And such a springtime treat. Well worth the large price tag for the real thing lest one be poisoned!

  9. ann May 1, 2006 at 4:43 pm #

    wow, thank you for commenting! as i was writing this post i was totally thinking to myself that some mycologist (or in my head, fungus geek ;-) was going to take me to task for being afraid of a silly wittle mushroom
    so, thank you for confirming my suscpicion, and please feel free to ask any questions about cooking here, or better yet, you should totally check out “The Kitchen” a cool blog with a great community of really, REALLY knowledgable food geeks
    the link is in the blogroll to the right of the homepage

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