Decadent Mushroom Pâté

I suppose I should be writing something about the festive season and how festive it was (it wasn’t really, but it was better than 2020) and/or what I’m resolving for the New Year.  Resolutions seem moot given the curved ball that is Covid, and which has derailed the last resolutions I made at the beginning of 2020.  Perhaps, instead of resolutions, there is a smidgen of hope.

In the meantime…

It’s no secret that I am very fond of things mushroom.  It’s also no secret that I’m constantly on the look out for plant-based dishes that I could add to my repertoire(s) at home and at the market.  This recipe was a lucky find for two, no, three, reasons:  it’s a great market product, flavour combinations are heavenly and, best of all, it’s versatile.

Deep flavours

A miscellany of mushroom dishes (clockwise from the top left): stuffed, soup, omelette, pickled and risotto.

A restauranteur friend of ours, is of the opinion that fresh mushrooms have no flavour.  Years ago, he shared his secret for flavour:  mushroom soup – the powdered version.  I didn’t understand.  With hindsight, I realise that quality mushroom soop powder should have a goodly quanity of dried mushrooms.  Now they do have flavour.

I’ve always, and instinctively avoided raw mushrooms.  They have no flavour and worse, if they get wet develop the worst kind of slimy texture.  A pet peeve:  mushroom slices in a green salad.  Pickled mushrooms? Well, that kind of slimy silky texture I’ll take any day.  As a matter of fact, that reminds me of a salad that the chef at the hotel where I worked for a university vacation used to make, and which I must try to replicate (again) and write down next time we have a surfeit of mushrooms.

This pâté is a slow cook that both combines and develops deep flavours.  The combination and the process.

Chunky Mushroom Pâté

Plant-based, easy, but not so quick mushroom pâté

  • skillet or wok
  • serving dish or 4 ramekin dishes
  • 15 ml olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 500g mushrooms, sliced
  • 15ml fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 60g nuts (pecan, walnut, almond)*
  • 125ml dry white wine
  1. In a large skillet (use a wok), sauté the onion and garlic until glossy and beginning to caramelise, 7 to 10 minutes.

  2. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook over a low heat until the liquid from the mushroom has evaporated, 18 to 20 minutes.

  3. Add the wine and turn up the heat and simmer until the liquid evaporates, 8 to 10 minutes.

  4. Then transfer mushroom mixture to a food processor, add the nuts and another tablespoon of olive oil. Blend for about 30 seconds, until the mixture is as smooth or as chunky as you would like.

  5. Pot into a single bowl or three or four ramekin dishes.  Chill before serving.

I have made this with walnuts, pecan nuts and almonds.  All work equally well although there are subtle differences in flavour.  If using the pecans and/or walnuts, toast before adding them to the mixture.

Appetizer, Drinks, Snack
appetiser, plant-based, snack, tapas, vegan


I mentioned that this is a versatile product.  It is, for two reasons:  the pate makes a great addition to a plant-based tapas platter (some say it’s a great substitute for chicken liver pâté.  Others vehemently disagree.  I tend to make it a little chunky which makes it fabulous to stir through pasta.  Which brings me to my next point.

The process is the real secret

Mushrooms are like good wine and cheese:  they need time to develop their flavour.  If you read the recipe properly, the mushrooms are effectively cooked twice:  the first time to release and allow all the liquid to reduce and effectively cook out.  The second after adding the white wine which is also reduced so that there is little if no liquid left.  While this is going on the onion caramelises, softens and releases its sugars.  With the addition of garlic and fresh thyme, I’ve begun using this process for our regular pasta night.

The mixture is not puréed as it is for the pâté, but rather left chunky and the nuts are optional.  With a good glug (or two) of olive oil, a bit more fresh thyme and a Parmesan style cheese.  Or not.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script
If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

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Original artwork: @artywink

Angel fish – astonishingly versatile

AngelfishA couple of weeks ago, the new season of Master Chef SA started, and I was watching with half an eye, as I was preparing our supper – angel fish.  Imagine my surprise when the first episode concluded with a boot camp – on a wharf in the Cape Town harbour – with the contestants having to prepare a dish with, yes, angel fish!

Before we moved to McGregor, we used to eat fish regularly, and over the last 10 or so years, the range of fresh fish available in the few independent fishmongers (as opposed to large supermarket chains), has shrunk enormously.  The implications of this, beyond availability for home consumption, is profound for both our environment, and for small fishers in South Africa.  However, that’s a rant for another time and place.

Inversely proportional to the reduced choice, is the increased price.  When I first moved to Cape Town some 22 years ago, my adventure with cooking fresh fish began.  I used to ask the lady behind the counter what was nice and how to cook it.  Being cash strapped, decisions were price-driven.  Consequently, and because hake seemed boring (and not always cost effective, and I am not fond of snoek), choices were limited:  Gurnard (shad) and angel fish.  Both, I discovered, are great eating – and very underrated.  In the Western Cape, Gurnard is not frequently available, so angel fish became our usual, and almost most favourite fish.  It remains so.  Even after moving, we still go into our “old” fish monger (Plumstead Fisheries), when we are in Cape Town.  A friend who commutes, also goes into the shop to get fresh fish for us – she has now got to know Desiree who has looked after us so well for about ten or so years now.  However, I digress…

A simple supper

Returning to angel fish – we eat it at least once a week.  Angel fish is moderately flavoured and relatively firm;  the fillets are thin, if you have a medium sized fish, so they don’t take much cooking. Tom is very fond of cooking over the coals (braai or barbecue), and will do so at any opportunity.  Having grown up in a land-locked country, when we first met, eating sea fish was foreign, and the first fish meal I did for him, he ate “met lang tande” (with long teeth), and was pleasantly surprised.  The next task was to get him to braai it:  a typical Western Cape way of eating fish.  Needless to say, some nearly fourteen or so years later, he’s a convert.

All that’s a long way of telling you that nine times out of ten, our angel fish is braaied on the Weber, over a moderate to dying fire, skin side down, regularly basted with a mixture that always includes an appropriate herb, garlic, butter and olive oil.  Recently, I’ve been using my lemon and parsley pesto as a base for what what is commonly referred to as “the paint”.

This is a simple, easy meal accompanied by a garden salad and potatoes (or not) boiled in their skins.  Depending on the weather (or the season, my mood and what’s in the garden) I will make a parsley or tartare sauce or a salsa, so although we eat the same thing, often, it doesn’t get boring.

Cold fish or luscious leftovers?

With only two of us, we often have fish left over, and I’m not one to throw away good food.  Prepared over the coals, the cooled fish has a lovely, light smokey flavour.  We have, on occasion, taken cold angel fish as a contribution to a picnic – the first time, against Tom’s better judgement.  On one occasion, there was quite a quantity and he was certain that we’d have lots left over:  what would I do with that?  “Make fish cakes,” was my immediate response.  But there was none left – no fish cakes!  On that occasion, the “paint” consisted of olive oil, butter, a little garlic and some grated ginger.

Fish cakes

Fish cakes are really easy to make, even if a little messy towards the end, with the egg-dipping and crumbing.  That said, Fish Cakes they are worth it and they freeze well, making them a great stand by.  Fish cakes are also a good way of using up extra potato and parsley sauce, which is what I did when I had a surfeit of fish, a week or so ago.  To make them, break up the fish, and mash the potato and then mix the two together, well.  Add the parsley sauce (if you have it; it’s not mandatory) and a good handful of fresh, chopped parsley.  Ensure this is well mixed in, season and add a lightly beaten egg to bind.

Then divide into cakes.  I’m not a great judge of size by eye and always used to end up with a load of unevenly sized fish cakes.  Now, I prepare a tray, covered with a layer of grease-proof paper, and then use a cookie cutter as a mould.  I press the mixture firmly into the shape and then once I’ve used it all up, I roll each cake in flour, dip it in beaten egg and then roll it in commercial bread crumbs:   fish cakes ready to fry.  At this point you can freeze them if you have more than you need.

Fish cakes - ready

I love fish cakes.  For me, they are a rare but indulgent comfort food.  I’ll eat them with lashings of tomato sauce (ketchup) and peas.  I’m especially comforted when the peas are freshly picked and lightly boiled/blanched with a sprig of mint.

Angel fish paté

Of course, to make fish cakes, you need a relatively large quantity of left over fish.  Often this isn’t the case, and one way of using up little bits of left over fish is to make a paté.  This has become one of the most popular products that I sell at McGregor’s Saturday pop-up market.  As far as quantities are concerned, use your discretion….

The paté consists of the left over fish, a spritz of dry white wine, a dollop of plain, creamed cottage cheese, a sprinkling of chives (or if it’s winter, and the chives have died back, green onion leaves) as well as salt and pepper.  Mix that all together, and you have angel fish paté.   Of course you can serve it with biscuits and/or fresh bread, but I have also served it in a lettuce leaf with a baby salad as a starter.

A last word (or two)

The South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) is a World Wildlife Fund initiative and, among other things, aims to create awareness about marine conservation and encourage people to eat fish responsibly, ensuring not just the sustainability of our oceans, but also, one hopes the re-establishment of stocks.

Both Angel Fish and Gurnard are on SASSI’s green list – at the moment.

I loved what the Master Chef contestants did with their angel fish and am grateful for a slew of new ideas….