Honoring the Humble White Button, for Tea's Sake

by Emily Jacobs
Antoinette Bruno
May 2013



Button Mushroom Stats:

$4.50-$5 per pound for organic domestic white button mushrooms

White button mushrooms are available year-round

Crimini mushrooms

Royer uses the mushroom tea scraps for duxelles, which he uses for stuffings

With expansive views of Singapore's bustling city streets and the sea in the distance, dining at Chef Julien Royer's Jaan feels like you're sitting on top of the world. In the small yet limitless space, diners eat at one of 10 tables, soaking in the creative spirit and luxury of Royer's cooking. More than likely, those guests will start their meal with what's become the chef's signature amuse bouche: Mushroom Tea, Cep Sabayon, Grilled Portobello, Walnuts, and Lovage Oil.

"We aren't able to replace [the mushroom tea] with another dish. It's something that many of our guests look forward to when they dine at Jaan," says Royer.

Instead of fancy chanterelles or elusive morels, as one might expect, Royer's secret ingredient is the unpretentious white button mushroom—available, inexpensive, and seriously flavorful. When steeped in mineral water, the humble buttons offer a subtle earthiness to create a palate-purifying tea.

Wild Mushroom Tea, Cep Sabayon, Lovage, and Walnuts
White Button Mushroom Tea, Cep Sabayon, Lovage, and Walnuts

Royer, who was dubbed "One to Watch" by San Pellegrino's "50 Best Restaurants Asia," serves the mushroom tea from a French press, pouring it into espresso cups over luxurious cep sabayon and garnishing the dish with charred portobello mushrooms. Originally inspired by a Régis Marcon recipe, Royer says, "I decided to create my very own version of cep sabayon, but I wanted to make something light, earthy, and flavorful to balance the richness of the sabayon."

White Button Mushroom Tea
White Button Mushroom Tea

Demitasse in hand, Royer began experimenting with the ancient practice of tea making to round out his shroom-y starter. He chose the often overlooked white button variety because "they add a pure, clean flavor to the dish." These small but mighty toadstools pack a woodsy punch without breaking the bank. He combines three parts white button consommé to one part dashi, which he adds "to provide an element of umami to the dish." Like a bold red wine paired with a juicy steak, the tea cleanses guests' palates while enhancing the flavor and mouthfeel of the sabayon.

Sourcing the little buttons may seem trivial, as they are the most highly cultivated form of agaricus bisporus, but Royer insists on buying organically cultivated mushrooms from nearby Malaysia.

Sourcing aside, it's Royer's process that makes his tea magical—not that kind of magical—and it goes beyond a simple infusion of water and fungus. He sweats the mushrooms in butter with shallots, onions, garlic, and ginger; he then steeps the mixture in hot mineral water with herbs and coriander for 45 minutes. Next, he double strains the tea and blends it with the dashi to finish the beverage that's more complex than its commonplace ingredients suggest.

The underappreciated white button has been waiting for a chef like Royer to fulfill its flavorful potential, which begs the question: what other simple, ubiquitous, bargain products can be transformed? And which one has your name on it?