Who knows who first mixed soy sauce and butter and discovered the pleasures the combination provides. Try the mixture on warm white rice, a steaming pile of greens or an old sneaker – regardless, the taste is a sublime velvet of sweet and salty, along with a kind of pop we call umami, a fifth taste beyond sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Soy butter provides warmth and luxury, elegance without pomp. For this recipe, we’ve adapted a dish that was on the menu at the chef Chris Jaeckle’s All’onda, in Manhattan: a mixture of soy and butter with mushroom stock to pour over polenta and sautéed mushrooms. The result is a dinner of comfort and joy.
FOR THE POLENTA
- 2 cups minus 3 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1 ¾ cups polenta or cornmeal
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan, or to taste
FOR THE MUSHROOMS
- ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pats, divided
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, wild or cultivated, sliced thin
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
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- For the polenta, bring 4 1/2 cups water and the milk to a high simmer in a medium-size heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add salt. Pour the cornmeal slowly into the liquid, stirring with a wire whisk to prevent clumping. Continue stirring as the mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Turn heat to low. Cook for approximately 40 to 45 minutes, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes. If the polenta becomes quite thick, thin it with 1/2 cup water, stir well and continue cooking. Add up to 1 cup more water as necessary, to keep the polenta soft enough to stir.
- Add the butter to pot, and stir well. Add the Parmesan, if using. Taste for seasoning. Set the covered saucepan in a pot of barely simmering water, and keep warm for up to an hour or so.
- Meanwhile, put the dried mushrooms in a small bowl, and cover with about 1/2 cup boiling water. Allow to steep for 20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms, and pat dry, then chop roughly. Reserve the mushroom stock.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan set over high heat until it has melted. Add the garlic and cook until it starts to sizzle, about 30 seconds. Do not let the garlic brown.
- Add the fresh and reconstituted mushrooms and thyme to the pan, and sauté 3 to 4 minutes, turning until browned. Add about 1/4 cup of the mushroom stock to deglaze the surface, using a wooden spoon to scrape at the browned bits. Allow the stock to reduce by half, then turn the heat to medium-low and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, whisking to combine, followed by the soy sauce, cream and olive oil. Allow mixture to cook until it thickens a little, then remove from heat. Taste for seasoning, adding black pepper, if desired.
- Put the polenta in a warmed bowl, then top with mushrooms and the sauce. Serve immediately.