Beyond the Button


Mushrooms run the gamut from ubiquitous buttons to saucer-lie flat browns and the elegant oyster.
– PETER MEIER won’t be kept in the dark when it comes to edible fungi.

Mushroom cultivation goes back to the 17th century, when champignons (commonly known as button mushrooms) were grown on compost beds made for the sweepings of horse stables, in dark, damp caves around Paris.

Until not so long ago, they were the only fresh cultivated mushrooms available in Australia and New Zealand.

Today there are quite a few different ones including Swiss browns, portobellos and the Asian exotics such as shiitakes, oysters, enokis and the different-coloured and shaped cloud and wood ears.

Swiss browns look almost identical to the buttons, but with a pale brown cap. They are also tastier. In their mature state, they turn into large, flat, firm and “meaty” specimens and are sold as flat browns. In California, they are known as portobellos or barbecue flats. Their texture and intensity of flavour is simply delicious.

Cultivated fresh mushrooms provide a tasty and visually attractive addition to many sauces and casseroles. They are great in salads, omelettes and sandwiches, and the larger flat whites and browns make the most delicious soups. A favourite of mine is a ragout of mushrooms served with the likes of risotto, pasta, polenta or mashed potatoes.

In this recipe, the mushroom and beef vie for centre stage.


Pan-fried beef tenderloin with mushrooms and red-wine sauce

Serves 4



500ml good-quality beef or veal stock

200ml full-bodied red wine

2 tblsp redcurrant jelly

1 tblsp tomato paste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 pieces of trimmed eye fillet of beef, weighing around 220g each

4 thick slices rindless bacon

4 large flat browns (portobellos), peeled

2 tblsp butter

2 tblsp vegetable oil

1 ½ cups creamy mashed potatoes

Watercress for garnish



First make sauce by combining stock, wine, tomato paste and jelly in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and cook uncovered over medium heat until volume is reduced by two-thirds. Season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle beef lightly with salt and pepper.

Wrap a piece of bacon around each piece of meat securing ends with a toothpick.

Pan-fry meat in half the butter and oil to one’s liking. Set aside in a warm place for meat to rest.

Pan-fry mushrooms in remaining butter and oil.

To serve, spoon mashed potato on to the heated plates. Top with mushrooms, then beef. Spoon over sauce add garnish with watercress.