In late summer, some of the most common mushrooms found in the high country of Arizona are the “Slippery Jacks” of the genus Suillus. These conspicuous yellow fungi are easily recognized, safe, and edible, but generally looked upon with disdain by American fungophiles. Their taste when fresh is quite bland, and the sautéing techniques used for cooking most ordinary mushrooms turn slippery jacks into an unappetizing, gelatinous mess. Moreover, some people’s stomachs are upset by compounds in the slimy skin that covers the cap.
However, in Poland and other Eastern European countries, people are exceedingly fond of the Suillus genus. Their name for this yellow mushroom is Maślak, or “butterball”. They are avidly collected in season, but typically dried, pickled, or smoked instead of being sautéed or otherwise consumed while fresh. With drying, they develop a lovely concentrated woodsy flavor that can take its place just below much more highly regarded species such as the porcini.
Note– Make sure to peel the skin and pores off the cap before drying! For this reason, the meatier, more substantial sorts of slippery jack such as Suillus brevipes and S. pseudobrevipes are likely to be superior to the thinner-capped varieties such as S. granulatus, S. lakei, or S. kaibabensis.
Below is a recipe for a traditional Christmas mushroom soup that Izabella Hyde learned from her Polish mother and serves to her Australian family. It may induce you to toss a few dozen of these common fungi into your basket next season. Dried slippery jacks are cooked thoroughly and then strained out, imparting delicious mushroom savor to a velvety brown, thick soup that can be prepared with or without cream or roux. I’ve tried it and it is delicious. Used by permission…
One of my favourite dishes from my mum’s kitchen is her Zupa Grzybowa, mushroom soup made from dried Slippery Jacks (aka Maślaki) which have been handpicked by her or my dad. It’s not a soup that we eat year-round as in my family it traditionally features during Wygilia, our Christmas Eve dinner. Mum makes it with fresh homemade pasta and the soup is served hot prior to the main meal.
Whilst this soup is rich and velvety with a gorgeous roasted aroma, I think the real reason that it tastes so good to me is because of the memories that go along with each spoonful I take.
Growing up, our autumn weekends would be spent getting up at the crack of dawn- be it rain or shine. Our car would be loaded up with good food, drinks, buckets, soccer balls or badminton sets and we would set out whilst it was still dark for our day’s mushroom picking, to the forests of the Southern Highlands or Oberon with what I call the ‘Polish clan’ – mum and dad’s Polish friends, who over time became our adopted aunties and uncles.
The day would be long, but as kids we didn’t complain or get bored. We participated in the picking and found great joy with each new mushroom stash that we found. The afternoons would either be spent playing soccer or perhaps assisting someone from our clan- someone who got bogged in the mud after being slightly over-zealous with their car’s ability.
If we were lucky to find some Saffron Milk Caps (Rydze) a few of them would be cleaned, thrown on to a hot BBQ with some salt and eaten on rye bread with some beer for the adults! Returning home we would spend the night as a family, sitting around more buckets and cleaning, peeling, slow-drying and pickling the mushrooms. I would go to bed with the soft, smoky aroma of the mushrooms drying wafting through the house.
I have my own family now and am recreating those beautiful memories yet again. I am very proud to say that my six-year-old daughter has taken to mushroom picking like a duck to water, continuing the family’s Polish tradition. She has definitely contributed to the stash of dried mushrooms residing in my pantry cupboard.
I have made this mushroom soup several times now and whilst this is my mum’s recipe, I have slightly amended the technique to give it my own signature touch. I also prefer to give the homemade pasta a miss and serve it with some sourdough bread.
One thing’s for sure- I will definitely not be waiting till Christmas Eve to make this again!
Recipe for Zupa Grzybowa
Preparation time: 1-2 hours approximately
Cooking time: 45 minutes approximately
Serves: 2 large bowls or 4 small bowls of soup
80g (or just over 1 cup) dried Slippery Jack mushrooms
1L boiling water
1 large onion chopped into medium pieces
1 tsp oil (grapeseed or another neutral oil)
1 tsp butter
1 small carrot chopped into medium pieces
1 small parsnip chopped into medium pieces
4-5 flat leaf parsley leaves
Salt and pepper (plenty of this!)
For the roux – to thicken the soup:
1 tbs butter
1 tbs plain flour
1) Wash the mushrooms briefly under running water. You don’t want them to go soggy and lose all of their ‘stock’ quality goodness. We will be straining the mushrooms at a later stage so you can be rest assured that the mushrooms will be clean. Soak the mushrooms in the boiling water for approximately 1-2 hours.
2) When the time is up, strain the mushrooms through a fine sieve and cheesecloth, reserving both the stock and mushrooms.
3) Saute the onion in oil and butter until it becomes translucent. Add carrot and parsnip and cook for another 1-2 minutes on high heat, however watch the pan as you don’t want the onion to burn or catch on to the bottom of the pan. I normally use a non-stick frying pan for this. You want the onion well-caramelised so that it is full of flavour.
4) Transfer onion and vegetable mixture into a cooking pot. Add the mushrooms, mushroom liquid, parsley leaves and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook at low heat, slightly covered for about 45 minutes. What you are looking for is the development of an intense flavour. The carrot and parsnip need to be soft, however not falling to pieces. They are there for flavour only.
5) At the end of the cooking process I strain everything through a sieve and cheesecloth again so that I am only left with a gorgeous brown velvety liquid. Thicken this liquid to your desired consistency by making a roux (butter and flour thickening sauce). To make a roux, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it is bubbling. Then add the flour slowly to the butter, whisking constantly, until it forms a white sticky paste. To that, add the mushroom soup liquid by whisking it in. Strain the mixture if any lumps form.
This soup is eaten in my household either really creamy or clear like stock. You can also add a little thickened cream if you like, instead of the butter and flour. If required, season with more salt and pepper. I use plenty of pepper as it gives it a nice kick.