The season of mushrooms is upon us! In fact, the season of mushrooms has been upon us – from approximately July to September. Walk past any restaurant or cafe in Vienna and you will see menus boasting various cuts of meat doused in mushroom cream sauces, the more robust mushrooms fried like schnitzel and served with tartar sauce, dumplings crowned by mushrooms, vegetarian goulash and risotto featuring a variety of mushrooms, and, and, and – the mushrooms are plentiful and the Austrian kitchen is glorious at this time of year (read: pumpkin season is also upon us!).
Austria amazes me with its tangible connections to its seasons and its own bounty. Although a wide selection of diverse cuisines are on tap in Vienna, the Austrian kitchen – even here in the big city – really catches my eye because of its fresh and seasonal menus. What appears to be a philosophy on eating and food in general in the United States, is simply a way of life in Austria: that which is seasonal is feasted upon, celebrated, and eagerly awaited once the season has passed.
The two mushrooms that I encounter most frequently – both on menus and hillsides as well as in markets – are the Eierschwammerl (chantarelle) and the Steinpilze (porcino) featured above in a snapshot taken at Vienna’s Naschmarkt. While I have never come upon a Steinpilz in the wild, I have had occasion to search for Eierschwammerl and it is great fun! Despite their golden color, these mushrooms are not easy to find as they are more often than not hidden between layers of moss and earth. Seeing that flash of gold in the dark woods may seem like reward enough but not when you know how good they taste! In recent years, however, the amount of mushrooms that one may forage from the woods has been limited as the crop has been sparse due to low rainfall, intense summer heat, and greedy pillagers (read: 1-2 kilogram per person).
I decided to try my hand at preparing mushrooms this season – an homage to Austria and its rotating kitchen. As I was not able to forage myself, I resorted to the white mushrooms on sale in your pick of grocery stores all over the country. The mushrooms I chose were quite large and I prepared them as I would a schnitzel – a coat of flour, followed by egg, and sealed with breadcrumbs. The results were delicious – the flavor of the mushrooms intensified by the smart of the tartar sauce served on the side. Steinpilze as well as the aptly named Parasol variety also lend themselves particularly well to schnitzel-esque preparations.