January 14, 2012
And its multifarious uses!
I adore mushrooms. I love shiitakes stir-fried with strips of flank steak, I love the earthy funk of fresh morels in cream sauce, I love porcini-and-pea risotto – I even love the unjustly-maligned white button mushroom (which is, you may not be aware, the exact same thing as a brown crimini or portobello mushroom – they’re all agaricus bisporus, and they don’t taste different in the slightest.).
I also love that my parents have a membership at Costco, where rather large quantities of dried mushrooms can be had for not too much money. They recently picked up a big ol’ jar for me, at my request, since I’d used up most of the Chinese Black Mushrooms (same species as the shiitake, Lenintula edodes) that my friend Allison gave to me as a host present. Thanks, Allison! They were delightful, and giving people dried mushrooms is the best tradition.
12 B M G F l a t b r e a d
Berkshire bacon, mushroom, goat cheese
There’s no way that could be bad! And of course, it wasn’t. There were chunks of cooked mushroom, little batons of bacon, and half-teaspoon-sized dots of goat cheese – and simply typing that makes me salivate. But the interesting part was the smell. Cooked, fresh mushrooms don’t have a particularly intense flavor most of the time. It’s the dried mushrooms that have that intense, musty flavor. There was, I noticed, a dusty coating on the flatbread. I asked the waitress, “Is this powdered mushroom?” and she was like, “Good eye, yes it is!”
So that was one of those things that I tried and immediately knew I wanted to steal.
Not exactly a spice, not exactly a condiment
You will need:
- 1 cup (by volume) of dried shiitake mushrooms (or other dried mushrooms, but shiitakes are relatively inexpensive)
- A clean and odorless coffee or spice grinder
1. In batches, grind the mushrooms into a rough powder, and gradually add in the mushrooms until they’re all ground up, and continue to process until they become a relatively fine powder. You could grind them into a superfine, almost cakey powder, if you wanted, but I think you’d have to add salt (the added agitation of the salt helps grind other, softer stuff).
2. Put the resulting powder into a bowl – you should have, by volume, about a half-cup. Store in a tightly-lidded plastic container, out of direct sunlight, for a few weeks to a month or so. Whole dried mushrooms have a shelf life of about half a year before they start to lose a lot of their flavor, so I figure the ceiling on this powder is maybe two months.
It won’t last that long, however, because once you make a batch of this stuff, you’ll want to put it on everything, like…
You will need:
- 4 parts mushroom powder
- 2 parts kosher salt
- 1 part black pepper
- a large, heavy pot with a lid
1. Combine the mushroom powder, the salt, and the pepper in your spice grinder and process until everything turns into a fine powder. For a half-cup (unpopped) serving of popcorn, I’d use 2 teaspoons of mushroom powder, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper (and feel free to use the whole peppercorns here – they’re getting scrunched up anyhow)
When combined, it’ll look kinda like this:
That is, rather like sawdust and pencil shavings. Never fear, though; this stuff is delicious.
2. Get some potholders ready. Heat a few teaspoons of oil in your heavy pot, measure out your popcorn (more than 1/2 a cup of unpopped kernels in a 6-quart pot will result in I Love Lucy-esque overflow hijinks, so be forewarned.), and stir briskly over high heat for a minute or so, until the kernels begin to turn opaque.
3. When this happens, cover the pot, and wait for the sound of popping kernels. At this point, take hold of the pot’s handles with your potholders, and shake the pot vigorously, making sure it stays in contact with the heat. Don’t shake it up and down, just side to side. Give it a good shake at least once every ten to fifteen seconds so nothing gets stuck on the bottom.
4. When the space between pops exceeds, oh, 10 seconds or so, turn off the heat, and let the pot stay covered for about a minute to protect yourself from rogue poppers. Then decant into a large bowl, and from a relatively high height, sprinkle the mushroom seasoning mixture over it, and toss until coated and tasty. You probably won’t need any additional oil to make the mixture adhere to the popcorn, since the grains are so small they’ll fit in the nooks and crannies of the popped kernels. Health food!
I guess lots of upmarket restaurants, at least in Chicago, are giving out pre-dinner popcorn instead of bread. Graham Elliot is known for it, and so is decorated newcomer Ruxbin. It makes sense. Popcorn is cheap, not particularly labor-intensive, and easier to customize on the fly than bread is. It’s also less filling than bread, but it takes as long to eat. Graham Elliot does theirs with parmesan and truffle oil; Ruxbin does it with furikake. I’d like to put my mushroom popcorn right up against theirs. I also love to douse popcorn in garlic oil, but we’ll get to that.
If popcorn’s not your speed, then allow me to return to a Clean Platter standby: Macaroni and Cheese!
A recipe identical to the Essential Stovetop Mac and Cheese, with emendations in bold text.
- 1 stalk of celery
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/4 of a medium onion – about 1/4 cup, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk, any type of fat (I used skim and it was fine.)
- 3 ounces, by weight, grated/dry mexican cotija cheese (or parmesan)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons mushroom powder
- 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced (optional but awesome; I didn’t have any fresh on hand)
- 1/2 pound of elbow macaroni noodles
- a 2-quart saucepan
- a 6-quart pasta pot
- a colander
Prepare identically to the Essential Stovetop recipe:
1. Dice the celery, garlic, and onion; measure your milk, cheese, fat, and flour. Slice the mushrooms.
2. Start heating the pasta water.
3. Melt the butter in the 2-quart saucepan and cook the celery, garlic, and onion until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add in the flour and mix into a paste over medium heat, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Add the milk a little at a time, and stir vigorously but not extravagantly, until all traces of roux-lumps are gone. Continue to stir and cook for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the mixture is pleasantly thickened. Reduce heat to low.
5. Add in the mushroom powder, stir, and taste. Don’t add any salt, because the cheese is plenty salty.
6. Yeah! Add the cotija or parmesan cheese. High-five the person nearest you. Kill the heat, stir to combine.
7. Cook the sliced mushrooms in oil over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until they’ve lost most of their liquid, shrunk, and browned. Cook in a single layer.
8. Cook the macaroni in the boiling, salted water, and cook until al dente – then drain and incorporate into the cheese sauce. Add the mushrooms, stir to combine, and serve.
But with tasty chunks of mushroom on top.
Anyway. I suppose I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a version of Volo’s bacon, mushroom, and goat cheese flatbread, but with an addition of my own – garlic oil!
You will need:
- a head of garlic or two
- a cup of good-quality olive oil
- a clear plastic squeeze bottle – these should usually cost about 1 to 2 bucks.
- a small saucepan.
1. First, separate and peel all the cloves of garlic and, once peeled, tumble them into a saucepan. Fill the pan with oil to cover the garlic, and put it on the stove over low heat – at the barest simmer. You don’t want to really cook the oil here; you want to heat it enough to soften up the garlic, but you want to keep the oil as bright-tasting as you can.
2. Let it go for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the kitchen smells magnificent. Hot olive oil smells surprisingly fruity, so you may find yourself sniffing around for an unexpected banana (like ya do).
3. Once the garlic is soft, remove it with a slotted spoon. Let the oil cool off, and then pour it into a measuring cup, then a squeeze bottle. Keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
4. Do something wonderful with the oil-poached garlic cloves. Slather them on a toasted baguette, eat them plain, throw them into a batch of mashed potatoes, dab them behind your ears – I don’t care. They’re going to be delicious, whatever you do.
Bacon, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Flatbread with Garlic Oil
Makes either 2 full-size pizzas or 4 little flatbreads
You will need:
- A recipe of pizza dough
- Garlic oil (see above)
- Mushroom powder (see above)
- a 4-ounce log of goat cheese
- 4 ounces of bacon, cut into little sticks
- 4 ounces of mushrooms, sliced thin.
1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Cut your dough into either two or four balls, depending on your preference, and roll them out; place them on an oiled baking sheet.
2. In a small skillet, cook the bacon over low heat until cooked through but not crispy. Reserve the bacon, and cook the sliced mushrooms in the fat until they give off their liquid and turn brown. Take off the heat and place in a bowl.
3. Drizzle each flatbread with a teaspoon or so of garlic oil, then dot them with bacon pieces, mushrooms, and half-teaspoons of goat cheese. Dust generously with mushroom powder!
4. Bake in the 450-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until the dough is crisp and brown around the edges. Let cool for two minutes, then cut and serve.
Well. I think that’s enough for one day, don’t you?