No one knows exactly why this delicious and hearty mushroom gratin dish is called julienne. French julienne is made of sautéed vegetables served over a slice of bread. Russian mushroom julienne is usually made in an individual small baking dish called la cocotte (resembles of a ramekin but has a side handle) for every guest and served as a ‘hot starter’ for the traditional Russian festive table (‘hot starters’ are served between ‘cold starters’ and the main dish). You can alternatively cook mushroom julienne in a larger baking dish and spoon it up at the table. Pan cooked mushrooms are put into the ramekins or the baking dish and baked in béchamel sauce under grated cheese on top until the cheese is golden or crusty.
My first memories of mushroom julienne come back to the Kremlin Palace of Congresses in Moscow (now it is called the State Kremlin Palace) where my mother took me as a little girl for spectacular Russian ballet shows. During the interval, despite of the total food deficit, mushroom julienne and some other rare treats were served at the buffet.
You can use regular store mushrooms (young button champignons) or wild forest mushrooms for mushroom julienne. The prepared mushroom julienne with wild or regular mushrooms will have a slightly different taste but both versions will be very good. There are also some interesting variants of julienne when instead of mushrooms chicken or crab meats are used. You can try them out too. I remember once a long time ago somewhere in a restaurant in Russia I happened to come across some odd ‘frankfurter (hot-dog) julienne’. Oh, how pathetic! I don’t suggest you try hot-dogs in béchamel!
Mushroom julienne / gratin
Mushroom julienne. Mushrooms baked in ramekins in béchamel sauce with cheese crust. Russian cuisine
Yield: 8 servings as a starter
Chopped mushrooms: 2.2 lb (1 kg)
Finely chopped shallots: 4
Butter: 45 g + 1 Tbsp
Milk: 17.6 oz (500 ml)
Plain flour: 1/3 cup (60 g)
Sea salt: 1+1/3 Tbsp
Grated hard cheese: 0.4 lb (200 g)
Black pepper: 1/2 tsp
Nutmeg: 1 tsp
1. Finely chop shallots (if you don’t have them use 2 large onions instead) and sauté slightly in a deep pan (a wok works great) for 5 minutes in a table spoon of butter stirring from time to time. Cut mushrooms in about 1.5 cm (half an inch) pieces for the mushroom julienne and add to the pan. Mushrooms will produce a lot of juice while fried, so cook them until the juices are decreased and the mushrooms are totally done (20-25 minutes), stirring frequently. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg while cooking. Mushrooms will cook down quite a lot. Make sure they don’t burn and get stuck to the pan.
2. While the mushrooms are cooking make béchamel for your mushroom julienne. In a pot on a low heat melt the rest of the butter, add flour little by little, mixing well. Then start adding milk whisking all the time. You need totally smooth lump-free sauce. Whenever I make béchamel I cheat and use an electric hand blender or electric hand whisk: this makes béchamel really easy and fast thing to do.
3. Turn on your grill or broiler. When both the mushrooms and the béchamel are ready mix them well together in a deep pan where the mushrooms were cooked. Now divide the mushroom julienne among ramekins or simply put into the baking dish. Grate the cheese (mature cheddar, gruyère or comté are equally good to use) and put in evenly on top of the mushroom julienne. Put the ramekins or baking dish under the grill/broiler for 10-15 minutes. The mushroom julienne is ready when the cheese on top is melted and becomes golden and crusty. Serve the mushroom julienne straight away.
4. As you can see from the directions you can prepare mushroom julienne in 2 stages that makes it an easy dish to serve to your guests. Get mushrooms and béchamel ready and mixed together the day before and then just bake the mushroom julienne in the oven at 200 degrees C (392 degrees F) to get it hot through before you put the grated cheese on top and place the mushroom julienne under the grill.
For chicken, chicken and mushroom or crab juliennes use the same method as for the mushroom julienne but adjust the amount of chicken or crab. You will need less chicken breast or crab meat as they don’t cook down as much as mushrooms.