Braising is one of my favorite means of cooking nearly anything. I especially love braising vegetables in a bit of whiskey, and I’ve usually done so with greens – kales, chards, mustard greens, and combinations of all. A recent celery challenge was a chance to come at braised vegetables from a different direction. Tender center stalks of celery and their leaves were a natural pair for sweet leeks. But before I started prepping them, I set a handful of dried mushrooms (I used dried portabellas because they were what I had, but porcini or shitake would do beautifully, too) to soak in boiling water. While the packets were in the oven, I slowly reduced the reserved mushroom soaking liquid. Just before taking it off the heat, I squeezed in some Meyer lemon juice and swirled in a pat of butter. I opened the packet, turned the braised vegetables over some mashed potatoes, and drizzled the sauce over them all. The sweetness of the vegetables and their juices is crowned with the savory-tart mushroom sauce. The potatoes ensure that not one drop escapes.
- 6 pale, tender center stalks of celery with leaves
- 2 leeks, white parts only
- 1 handful dried mushrooms of your choice
- 2 pats of unsalted butter
- 6 slices of lemon, preferably Meyer
- 4 teaspoons Jameson’s or Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey
- Sea or kosher salt and grinds of pepper
- Juice of 1/2 lemon, preferably Meyer, for mushroom reduction
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Place a handful of dried mushrooms in a mixing bowl. Bring to a boil about 2 cups of water. Pour over mushrooms, then cover bowl with a plate to retain heat. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Trim leeks. Keep green parts to add to your next pot of stock. Discard root ends. Split leeks in half lengthwise. Hold under running water and fan each half to rinse well, keeping halves intact. Place cut side down on a kitchen towel to drain.
- Trim celery stalks to about 8″, measuring from the leafy ends down. Wash and drain along with the leeks.
- Lay 2 12″ x 18″ sheets of parchment on your work surface. Set two leek halves cut side up in the center of each. Arrange 3 celery stalks on top of the leeks. Divide mushrooms between each packet, lifting them out of the soaking liquid. Place a pat of butter (about a tablespoon) on top of the mushrooms. Next, arrange 3 slices of lemon over the top of each. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of Irish Whiskey over each set of vegetables. Finally, sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper.
- To close packets, match up the long sides of parchment. Roll them down to the top of the vegetables. fold in the ends gift-wrap style, and tuck underneath the packet. Set each packet on a baking sheet. Bake until vegetables feel tender (but not soft or mushy) when pierced from the top with a sharp paring knife, about 15 minutes.
- While the vegetables are in the oven, pour the mushroom soaking liquid into a saucepan and place over medium heat. Reduce slowly until about 25% of it remains. Remove from the heat and add the juice of 1/2 lemon. Swirl in a tablespoon of butter. Finally, season to taste with salt and pepper.
- When tender, remove vegetables from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. Carefully open packets, remove the lemon slices, and invert vegetables over mashed potatoes. Top with mushroom reduction. Serve immediately.