Mushroom Powder

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.).

Why is an Algonquin spirit selling mushrooms, anyhow?  I guess there's probably a Mushroom Manitou, but I would have associated that sort of nature spirit with, y'know, higher phyla like... chordata.  Or angiospermae.  Whatever, this undercuts my thesis that mushrooms are great, so ignore it.

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.

Anyway, Carolyn and I were at Volo again, and we had the BMG flatbread on their current menu.  That menu won’t be around forever, since it’s seasonal, so here it is for posterity:

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.

Mushroom Powder
Not exactly a spice, not exactly a condiment

The Setup

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

I'm not particularly concerned about sand or grit, because it's going to get ground so fine you won't even notice it's there.  Whatever, it's good for you.

The Heist

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 looks like sand but smelled like mushroom!  I felt like a WIZARD.

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…

Mushroom Popcorn!

The Setup

You will need:

  • 4 parts mushroom powder
  • 2 parts kosher salt
  • 1 part black pepper
  • oil
  • popcorn
  • a large, heavy pot with a lid

The Heist

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)

If you need me, I'll be downstairs, with the shopvac.

When combined, it’ll look kinda like this:

You can call, but I prob'ly won't hear you, because it's loud with the shopvac on.

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!

Food blogger's secret: I test the recipes in full proportion, but sometimes, for photography purposes, I just make enough to create a single serving.   There is a second, smaller prep bowl underneath that popcorn, to give the appearance of greater volume.  The more you know!

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!

Mushroom Mac
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

The Heist

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.

I only made a little bit, and I made it without the fresh mushrooms, and I should have put it in a ramekin and not a plate, but it’ll look something like this.Who serves Mac and Cheese in such a flat way?  It must be heaped, like a righteous, bounteous pile!

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!

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.

Instructions:

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

The Setup

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.

The Heist

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?

Happy cooking!

-D


Carolyn's Kielbasa-Plum pizza.  There'll be many dispatches from the War on Pizza as we continue this series.
Once a month, I throw a pizza party at my apartment.  I used to do it every single Friday in college; by this point, I’ve probably used up twice my body weight in flour over the past three years – ask my old roommates and they’d probably corroborate that figure.  From 2009 to 2011, I probably made around 300 pizzas, give or take a dozen – and I feel that’s a respectable number for someone who hasn’t made a business out of making pizza.  Well.  I call it respectable.  You might call it absurd, obssessive, or somewhat obscene.  Tomato, tomahto.

Here’s how it worked: I’d make enough dough for eight to twelve pizzas late Friday morning or in the early afternoon (I didn’t have a whole lot of classes on Fridays), let it rise all day while I did homework, errands, or grocery shopping – then, around 4 PM, my friends would come over for our writing workshop – we’d critique our own stories, read the stories of published writers, and argue about them, while drinking cocktails and maybe nibbling a foccacia.  Then, at 7, everyone would set about making pizzas – the rule was that you had to bring something to put on the pizza, or failing that, a few bucks to throw in for my sake.

Then I graduated from college, most of my friends moved to New York, and I moved to Chicago.  My Chicago friends and I had all sorts of different things to do on Friday nights (seriously, you guys have no idea how much easier scheduling a D&D game or a weekly party was in college.) – I could no longer do weekly pizza nights, nor did I want to.  But when I learned that my high school friend Daniel was suddenly moving to Hawaii, some well-worn subroutine kicked into drive and I said, “Hey!  Let’s send him off with a pizza party at my place.”  This seemed to be a good idea, so I elaborated: “Everyone brings a topping.  Try to be as crazy as you possibly can.”  Eli brought pears and goat cheese.  Carolyn brought mangoes and fennel.  Julia brought Spam.

So the tradition was resurrected.  Then I met another Chicago-area amateur pizzaiolo, Zac, who was turning pro – my friend Erica hosted a party to advertise his new pizza catering business (you call Zac, Zac shows up with dough and toppings, and he uses your kitchen to make pizzas for your party.  Then he cleans up your kitchen, takes your check, and leaves.  He makes a fine pizza, and it doesn’t hurt his business model that he’s pretty cute, too – the girls just gather in the kitchen and coo.).  I sat in Erica’s kitchen and just stared, watching him work, soaking it all in.  He ages his dough for a day or two; he cooks the pizza at the hottest possible temperature.  He doesn’t toss the dough, he stretches it.  I synthesized some (but not all) of his technique into mine, and I think, after several years of pizza-crafting, I’ve come up with a good dough recipe – one that isn’t difficult to put together, one that doesn’t require specialized technique to pull off, and isn’t any messier than baking cookies.

I scoff at the purported impossibility of recreating a good pizza in the home kitchen without an incredibly expensive battérie de cuisine.  You don’t need a wood-fired oven.  You don’t need a pizza stone.  You don’t even need a pizza peel.  Those things can help, sure!  I use a pizza stone about half the time.

Food writers have been hunting for the ideal home pizza, at the insistence of their editors, for at least a decade now.  Jeffrey Steingarten almost burnt a friend’s house down trying to disable the lock on an oven’s self-clean cycle.  That wacky fellow, Steve Raichlen, as well as many others, advocate grilling pizza, which works just fine.  Mark Bittman recommended giving a pan-fried pizza a shot (I’ve tried it!  It’s fun!).  Now, let me be fair to Mr. Steingarten – he was trying for a neapolitan-style pizza cooked in an absurdly-hot coal-fired oven (we’re talking thousands of degrees Fahrenheit); he was trying to recreate that toothy, chewy texture.  We’re not going for that.  We’re not making that kind of pizza – I think the closest you’ll be able to get to that is the grilled kind.  Look – nobody expects you to be able to make a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse porterhouse steak, the kind thrown into a 2000-degree oven for, like, 45 seconds, at home.  But you can make a perfectly good porterhouse that tastes just as good without a jet engine in your kitchen.  The same thing is true of this kind of pizza.  If you want to make a wood-fired oven in your backyard, feel free.  You already know what you’re doing.

For the rest of us, however, who live in apartments or don’t have the money or inclination to build a stone oven behind our homes, the regular household oven, set to 500 degrees, will have to suffice.

The “secret”, if it is one, to my dough, is the inclusion of semolina flour, which is what you use to make pasta.  It’s a coarse-grained flour made from durum wheat.  It’s about as expensive as whole-wheat flour – maybe a dollar a pound.  You shouldn’t have to upturn heaven and earth to find it – my neighborhood market had some Ziyad-brand semolina, and it’s worked out great.  It’s also about $1.50 for a 2-pound bag, which is a better deal than you’re going to get for rice, for a starter.  The point is, semolina is neither obscure nor expensive, which is why I will insist upon no substitutions.  Stop whining and find it – if you can’t find any in your neighborhood, leave a comment, tell me where you live, and I’ll find it for you.  I’ll stop short of actually purchasing it for you, though.

I use steel mesh pizza pans, which I got for about 6 bucks apiece at a restaurant supply store.  I also got a few serving trays at a resale shop in Seattle.  There’s no reason, however, that you couldn’t make these pizzas on cookie sheets, jelly roll pans, or any other flat piece of metal you can stick in your oven.  Cast-iron skillets are fun, but not really worth it unless you heat them to blazing on the stove first.

Here’s your absolute essential equipment list for pizza:

  • An oven
  • A large steel bowl
  • A cookie sheet
  • A knife, for cutting and serving

And maybe

  • A rolling pin

But that’s pushing it.

Here’s your non-essential but kind of fun additions list:

  • Pizza pans
  • A pizza stone or flat nontoxic paving rock
  • A pizza-cutter (a thing I do not possess)

You probably don’t have a pizza stone or pizza pans.  But that’s okay!  You do not need them.  I’ve made pizzas in a half-dozen kitchens without any of that crap, and the pizzas came out great – the pizza pans just make the dough a little easier to shape into a perfect circle, the pizza stone just crisps the bottom a bit and shortens cooking time.  The pizza cutter?  You probably have one.  I don’t.  Screw pizza cutters.

Pizza Dough
Makes two pizzas, feeds 3 or 4 people, if you give ‘em a nice salad, too.

The Set-Up

Ingredients:
(per two pizzas)

  • 2 cups All-Purpose flour
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp active-dry yeast
  • 1 cup water plus 2 tbsp
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

The Heist
A day or two before you intend to eat the pizza:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (including the yeast).  Mix with your hands until well-incorporated.I do so like the way semolina whispers into the bowl - it's such a pleasant sound.
  2. Measure out the water and olive oil.
  3. Make a well with your hands in the dry ingredients, and pour the water into that well, then add the olive oil.  You add the oil second because you don’t want it to clump up with the flour and not distribute itself evenly through the dough.Glub.
  4. Begin folding the dry ingredients up from the bottom of the bowl into the wet – scoop up from the bottom of the bowl with an open hand and fold over.  Fold, mix, and knead, until the dough is just shy of sticky.  Add another teaspoon of water or two if it’s still a little dry, but be patient; give it a good five minutes of mixing before you do that.  Then!  Knead it until it’s smooth – punch it, knock it, play with it, roll it around in the bowl while you listen to the radio or watch a cartoon or talk to someone (in person or on speakerphone – you won’t have much luck holding the phone to your ear while kneading – I suppose there is always the bluetooth headset, but let’s not scale Dork Mountain unless we have to.) for ten minutes.It should go from this... ... to this.
  5. Let the dough rise – oil the bowl, oil the dough, and let it sit for, at minimum, an hour and a half, if you intend to cook it that day.  If you’re aging the dough, cover the bowl with a plastic bag and throw it straight into the fridge.  Forget about it for a day or two.  If it gets a bit too puffy, just punch it down.Punch it, Bandit!
    The day you make the pizza
  6. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F – if you’re using a pizza stone, place it on the bottom rack of the oven.
  7. Separate the dough into equally-sized balls.  (I’ll devote an entire post to the technique of rolling out the dough, so never fear if this sounds a little brief.)  Let the balls of dough rise for at least half an hour.
  8. On a floured surface, flatten the balls into rounds and roll out with a rolling pin, continually flipping the dough for even thickness.  Dust off the surface flour and lay on a baking tray or pizza pan.I'll be doing a more in-depth entry on dough-handling, simply because I don't have enough photos of dough-rolling to support it right now.
  9. Top your pizza with sauce, cheese, and toppings (and, again, there will be a separate entry detailing the science of these).I believe these are... Irina's hands.
  10. Put the pizza into the oven, and bake for approximately 13 to 15 minutes, depending on desired doneness and crispness.  If you wish, you may cook two pizzas at once in the oven, with one on the bottom rack and one in the middle – make sure to switch them halfway through for even cooking.
  11. Remove pizzas from oven and allow to cool and set for at least three minutes before cutting and serving – the cheese will coagulate a bit, and you’ll be the better for it because the pizza won’t collapse all over your hands in a searing, melting glob.  Trust me, please.  If you don’t trust me, trust my scars.Mushroom and... salami, I believe.  This was one of mine.

There will be a number of posts on pizza.  I will be elaborating further on pizza technique in subsequent posts, as well as updates from the trenches (what toppings are my friends bringing to the parties?  How does one throw such a party anyhow?), but I figure the dough recipe is the one you’ll be returning to – if you’re interested enough to make a pizza, you probably already know what you want to put on it.

Happy eating!