Hello there! We’re officially half way through Blogtober – it’s day 15! Thank you to everyone who has participated by liking, sharing, commenting, and subscribing to the AWBK email list! If you’re new here or haven’t heard much about the challenge, you can follow this link and read all about it. (Spoiler… there’s a giveaway involved!!). Today’s recipe is an original creation of mine inspired by Brazilian ingredients. I’ve been sitting on this for a while, but now is a great time to publish it. You’ll find that its rich, earthy flavors fit perfectly with the autumn season! So this is my recipe for Fried Polenta and Shimeji Bechamel Sauce!
The scoop on this recipe…
Many of you may be familiar with polenta. It’s an Italian staple, and since Brazilian cuisine includes many Italian influences, polenta is common here as well. However Shimeji mushrooms… these may not be so familiar! I only discovered Shimeji mushrooms, (pronounced shih – MAY – jee,) when I started exploring the specialty corner in supermarket produce departments. As produce goes, they aren’t the cheapest thing. For example, I can buy two pounds of carrots for two Reais, or approximately fifty cents. (That’s according to the current exchange rate: 1 US Dollar = 4.18 Brazilian Reais.) Shimeji mushrooms, on the other hand, cost me anywhere from 10-13 reais for 200 Grams, the equivalent of 2 cups. So this dish is something I save for special occasions. But depending on where you live, it may be quite affordable.
Some brief history on Shimeji mushrooms in Brazil…
Curious to know more about the history of the Shimeji mushroom in Brazil, I did what many people of my generation do now days and “googled it.” And wouldn’t you know! I found some legit information in this academic paper by Eustáquio Souza Dias from the Laboratory of Edible Mushrooms, a branch of the Department of Biology at the Federal University of Lavras. According to this article, mushrooms have only recently become popular in Brazil as people have discovered their medicinal and culinary value. Neither Brazilian or Portuguese cuisine has traditionally made use of any mushroom variety. But with the wide influence of French and Asian cuisine in Brazil, the food scene is embracing mushrooms. And much to my delight!
The Shimeji mushroom originates from Japan. So considering the sizeable Japanese population in Brazil, it’s actually not so surprising to see shimeji mushrooms showing up in grocery stores here. I love their flavor! Like seaweed, they’ve got a hint of that ocean flavor, along with deep earthy tones. Some people say shimeji mushrooms taste bland. I never thought they were, but I’ve always cooked them in some way. So perhaps they are quite mild if eaten raw. But when sauteed with some butter… oh my! They are really, really good!!!
And that brings me back around to Fried Polenta & Shimeji Bechamel …
Every flavor in this dish is brought together by the butter sauteed shimeji mushrooms. Polenta is great on its own, but when fried and topped with a cream sauce it becomes irresistible! The crunchy crust of the polenta, and the creamy gravy… it’s a perfect comfort food. And the Bechamel… it’s great on its own, but the edition of shimeji mushrooms transforms the sauce. Infused with the shimejis’ flavor, the butter carries those earthy notes into the Bechamel and adds depth to that classic, rich creaminess.
Notes for this recipe…
To prepare this fried polenta & shimeji bechamel, you’ll use a few different pieces of cookware and baking ware. First off, you’ll want a good quality skillet to prepare the mushrooms and for later on when you fry the polenta. My personal favorite is an enameled cast iron piece. To make the bechamel and the polenta, you’ll need a good sauce pan. And for setting the polenta, I use a non-stick bread pan.
Prepare the polenta first so that it has plenty of time to cool and set up in the fridge.
This recipe is great to make in larger batches because the leftovers are just as good as the first time around!
Okay, let’s get to the recipe!
Fried Polenta & Shimeji Bechamel Sauce
A recipe for fried polenta topped with creamy mushroom sauce.
- FOR THE POLENTA
- 1 Cup Quaker Polentina Flour
- 3 Cups Water
- FOR THE MUSHROOMS
- 2 Cups of Dark Shimeji Mushrooms
- 2 Tablespoons of Butter
- FOR THE BECHAMEL
- 1/4 Cup Butter
- 1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
- 1-1 1/2 Cups Whole Milk
- 2 Cups Light Cream
- Salt and Black Pepper to taste (I used 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper.)
- Step 1 Rinse and trim the Shimeji mushrooms, setting aside to dry for later.
- Step 2 In your saucepan, combine the polenta with cold water. Place over high heat and stir constantly until the polenta is thick and bubbly. Continue stirring until the polenta is thick enough to reveal the bottom of the pan when stirred with a spatula.
- Step 3 Immediately pour into a lightly greased bread pan, cover and cool in the fridge.
- Step 4 Make the Bechamel sauce while the polenta is cooling. To do this, we must first saute the Shimeji mushrooms in butter. Do this on low to medium heat with very little or no salt. Sautee just enough for the mushrooms to brown ever so slightly, and immediately remove from heat and set aside.
- Step 5 In your sauce pan, whisk the butter and whole wheat flour on low heat until it’s smooth. Then slowly pour in the milk, whisking continuously to avoid clumping. Add in the mushrooms, salt, pepper.
- Step 6 Remove from heat and stir in the cream.
- Step 7 You may return the pan to the heat source if you’d like to thicken the sauce a little more.
- Step 8 The final step is to fry the polenta. Make sure the polenta is cold for this step or it won’t hold together properly.
- Step 9 Cut 1/2 – 3/4 inch slices of polenta and fry on both sides until golden and crispy, using your choice of oil or butter.
- Step 10 Finally, serve up your polenta with a ladle or two of shimeji sauce, perhaps a drizzle of olive oil, some freshly ground black pepper… and enjoy!