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Rovellons


I will warn you before you dive in, that this post might dive a bit deep into the mushroom geekiness for those of you that aren’t mushroom hunters. Feel free to jump directly down to the recipe.


I have written a few times about how obsessed the Catalans are with mushrooms (I would argue more so than any other culture in Western Europe), and their undisputed favorite mushroom for the table is the rovelló (pronounced “roo-bel-yo,” plural is rovellons, pronounced “roo-bel-yones”). In season, rovellons can be found piled high in all the markets, and the Catalans enjoy eating them in countless different preparations.


In English, rovellons are called “saffron milk caps” or “bleeding milk caps,” (and “níscalos” in Spanish) and the scientific name is Lactarius sanguifluus. Saffron milk caps are really a whole mess of species that are all similar to Lactarius deliciosus. The “true” Lactarius deliciosus is also found in Spain, where it is actually called “pinetell” (pee-nah-tell, another Catalan word). Pinetells are also highly prized in Catalonia (and throughout Spain), though they are put in a slightly less prestigious tier than rovellons. In the markets, however, the similar pinetells are often (if not almost always) mixed together with the rovellons in the same bins, and all sold together as rovellons.


Milk caps are a group of mushrooms that exude a liquid (mycologists call it latex) when bruised or cut. The “bleeding” milk caps are called that because many of the species in the group have a latex that can be blood red, though many are more orange. “Rovelló” means “the rusty one” in Catalan, and it refers to the way they first bleed red, but then slowly stain green.


There are members of the Lactarius deliciosus group of species all over North America, Europe, and Asia, and I was preparing to write a bit about the different species, and how they are more or less related to the “true” pinetells and rovellons. Instead, with the help of some mushroom expert friends, I made the mistake of digging into the genetic work that’s been done on the subject in recent years, and found out that all my assumptions about their relationships (based on physical appearances) aren’t backed up by the DNA. Suffice to say that all of the different species in the group are closely related, and not in ways that you might think or predict by looking at them.


Saffron milk caps are a type of mycorrhizal mushroom, which means they live in symbiotic relationships with trees. They can’t live or be grown without their living tree partners. Around the world, most of them (not all) grow

with conifers, with different tree species often having their own associated “rovelló” species. These are common mushrooms throughout western North America (and I suspect the eastern part, too, though I don’t have a lot of personal experience in those places). I have seen and collected large amounts of them growing in forests around California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska – not to mention various parts of the Rockies. Despite being extremely popular throughout Europe (not just with Catalans and other Spaniards), for some reason, they are not terribly popular in North America, even among seasoned mushroom hunters. These are consistently big flavored, good textured mushrooms when properly prepared. And they are exceedingly beautiful in the field, the basket, the fridge, and the cutting board.


Though for non-mushroom-hunters, they simply are not available in the United States, they are widely available to foragers. I believe that there are two issues keeping my mushroom hunter friends from enjoying them more. First, the popular field guides in the USA are pretty unenthusiastic about their culinary merits. Most mushroom hunters first decide what is worth eating by what their favorite field guide says. I could write pages (and probably already have, elsewhere) about why field guides are really untrustworthy sources on what mushrooms are good to eat. Second, though, is that Americans simply have no idea how to cook them for best results, which I will get to momentarily.


I have heard many Americans, over the years, say that the North American species aren’t as good for eating as the European ones. With only one exception, none of the people I’ve heard say these sorts of things have much (if any) experience eating either, let alone both. I have mushroom hunting friends from all over Europe that enthusiastically collect and eat our American “rovellons.” While the species are certainly different from the European ones, they are still quite good to eat once you need to prepare them.


Ultimately, I wonder (and need to get in the ears of some of my friends that sell mushrooms for a living) about their viability as a commercial species in the USA. They certainly are a popular, commercially sold species in several European countries. I would argue that they are much better edibles than certain other wild species (which I won’t name here) that I have seen sold commercially in recent years. I believe that the issue is mainly about marketing, though they are also rather fragile in comparison to most other commercially sold mushrooms in the USA, so maybe that is part of the issue?


So, how to cook rovellons?

In Spain, one of the most popular cooking methods is to simply cook them whole, gill side up on a grill or plancha, slowly on low or indirect heat. They are drizzled with a bit of olive oil, salt, garlic, and parsley. That's about it. I have seen more Catalan preparations than I can count, from simple sautés, to use in any manner of stews, to stuffing them inside of squid, just to start. Because they have such a big, meaty flavor, and have a texture that holds up well in various applications, they really go well in just about any savory thing that you can imagine using mushrooms in. They do need a little bit of love to get the best out of them, though, especially texturally.


Rovellons (and pretty much all of the meaty Lactarius and Russula species that you might want to eat), tend to have a grainy texture that can be unpleasant if quickly sautéed. This has to do with an interesting evolutionary path that family took while most other mushrooms developed a more fibrous structure. Not worth getting into the science of it here, but the important thing to know, is that you need to cook them slowly, and preferably with a bit of moist heat to break down the graininess. In some cultures (not in Spain), this group of mushrooms is always boiled before other preparations, which improves the texture quite a bit. I don’t usually do a separate parboil for rovellons, though my preferred (very much wet) cooking technique might seem a little strange to some of you.


I have a few mushroom related recipes on the site already which would be great with rovellons, but…

Rovellons prepared using the simple method described below.

Rather than giving a really complicated fancy recipe for cooking rovellons in this post, I want to just explain the simplest, most common way that we cook them in my house (and we do so quite often). I like to use the technique that I call a "wet sauté" in my mushroom book. This technique involves getting a pan really hot, then without adding any fat, adding the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and enough water to cover them. I let the water come to a boil and reduce down completely before lowering the heat and sautéing on a lower flame. It is also worth mentioning that it is not necessary to get a lot of color on these particular mushrooms when they cook. If you brown them much, you are likely to bring out a bitterness that overpowers their naturally strong meaty flavor.


Ingredients

2 lbs rovellons cleaned and cut in large pieces (or halved or left whole if small)

2 or 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 or 3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Salt TT

Extra virgin olive oil for cooking


1. Get a large, heavy-bottomed pan hot on a medium-high flame. When hot, add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt to the pan. Pour in enough cold water to cover the mushrooms in the pan, and let the water come up to a boil. Let the water completely reduce away.


2. When the water is just about gone from the pan, lower the heat to medium-low, and add a generous few glugs of the olive oil. Sauté the mushrooms, stirring regularly, until they just barely start to brown. This will take 5 to 10 minutes. You do not want to brown them much or they will start getting bitter. At the first sign you see of them starting to brown, move on to the next step.


3. Stir in the garlic, and sauté for another minute or two. You just want to cook long enough that the garlic isn’t raw. Do not brown the garlic. Stir in the parsley, and cook for another 30 seconds or so. Taste and adjust salt if needed.


Rovellons prepared in this way make a great side dish for a wide variety of meats, fish, seafood, and pastas or just served on toast with eggs for a meal.

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