We can remember when making coq au vin might have meant taking time off from work to shop for mushrooms. The recipe, a variation of the braised chicken and red wine that’s been called “a classic French country fricassee,” may be one of the most popular chicken dishes in France.
In addition to the chicken and wine, which would have been easy to find, the recipe calls for at least two different kinds of mushrooms. That’s where we would have run into problems. Although white or button mushrooms have always been available, the supply of mushrooms grown underground in caves used to dwindle in the summer. “It was too hot,” says Dan Lucovich, president of the Mushroom Alliance, a marketing co-op in Pennsylvania.
The shift in the industry came about 1980, when all mushrooms were grown above ground in the humid, temperate climate they like, and shoppers could count on a steady supply of mushrooms year round. What happened next was practically a turning point in the mushroom business. Around 1985, chefs started introducing Americans to mushroom varieties they had never tasted.
People loved them and wanted to cook with them. Mushroom growers began cultivating these so-called exotic or specialty varieties, and soon portobellos and criminis were on their way to market.
In addition to criminis (which are similar in shape but firmer than white buttons), this coq au vin calls for umbrella-shaped, meaty shiitakes.
Although specialty varieties represent only a small portion of the mushroom business, you should have no trouble finding them. “We produce them every day,” says grower Lucovich.
Story by Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.