'Shroom Service

How to make a deeply satisfying mushroom broth with herbs

Stock vs. broth. Broth vs. stock.

What's the difference? Well, that's a can of worms. Some say it's the difference between simmering water with bones (stock) and meat (broth); others draw the line at leaving the resulting liquid unseasoned (broth) versus adding salt (stock).

We're gracefully sidestepping the semantics by making a flavor-packed liquid that's meat and salt free, but satisfying enough to sip on its own. We call it a broth (see the recipe), but don't get too bogged down with the details—you can just call it delicious.

It starts with dried shiitake mushrooms, those umami-packed vegetarian workhorses. A good, slow soak in cold water draws out their deepest, most nuanced flavor. It's similar to the technique used to make shiitake dashi, the simple vegetarian broth that's a fundamental building block for many Japanese dishes.

But ours is a globe-trotting broth, so let's jet over to France for the next step, shall we? Instead of busting out a classic mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery), we focus instead on alliums and alliums alone, calling on the combination of onions, leeks and garlic to add sweetness and depth. A few whips of thyme and parsley balance things out as the mixture simmers, and a swath of lemon peel adds unexpected brightness.

The finished product is clear, clean and almost shockingly satisfying to sip on its own (mushroom tea!), to say nothing of being used as a base for soups (simply throw in a handful of grains and vegetables), stews, sauces, risottos and more. It tastes richer than the sum of its parts, a perfect trompe l'oeil (or make that trompe l'palate) for this time of year, when we crave dishes both comforting and clean.

That's a nifty trick, no matter what you call it.