Umami Power Bites! Make a big batch of these intensely aromatic, savory bites to add flavor to just about everything you might want to cook from egg dishes, pizza and grilled or melted cheese sandwiches, polenta, sautéed greens, salads, to soups and stews, or simply eat them out of hand. See? The mushrooms do go with everything.
If you’re a vegetarian, you, too, can enjoy BLT’s in the summer. Make the smoked salt version in the Variations (below) or simply increase the soy sauce and omit the fish sauce. Then your sandwich will be and SBLT and, if you share with meat-eating friends, they won’t miss the real thing.
The Garrone family of Far West Fungi generously supplied me with some mushrooms for a farmers’ market tour and tasting I led at the San Francisco Castro Farmers’ Market in August 2010. They also shared with me what they knew of their grandmother’s shiitake bacon methods. She makes several batches a week. Far West Fungi sells “uglies”, less-than-perfect shiitakes for a deep discount. Using the largest of these allows you to cut longer slices. But the odd bits and crumbles that necessarily result even with the gentlest handling taste as good as the best-looking slices.
- 8 ounces large shiitake mushrooms
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (.6 ounces) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
- Preheat the oven to 250°F. Cut the mushrooms into 1/2-inch slices (stems removed and saved for stock). Gently toss the slices in a bowl with the olive oil, soy sauce, and fish sauce until evenly coated.
- Lay them out on a cookie sheet, leaving space between the pieces.
- Bake until they are very shrunken and not quite crisp, about 2 hours. As they cool, they will get crisper. Turn over after 1 hour. This gives you an opportunity to judge how quickly the mushrooms are cooking and to adjust your timing, if necessary.
High and Fast or Low and Slow: You can make the bacon by roasting the mushrooms at 400°F for 10 to 20 minutes or low and slow, 250°F, for an hour or two until not quite stiff. The low-slow option gives you more control and you do not want to burn the mushrooms.
If you want something like bacon bits, chop the mushrooms into 1/2-inch pieces instead of slicing and oven-dry for the longer time, about 2 hours. When done, the mushrooms should still be pliable; they get crisper as they cool.
If you prefer to eat gluten-free and make the soy-sauce version, use gluten-free soy sauce. You can increase the amount of soy and fish sauces to produce a stronger flavor, but be careful as both are salty.
Ian, of Far West Fungi, told me he likes to coat the mushroom slices in teriyaki sauce and bake them at 250°F for about an hour, checking at 45 minutes. The teriyaki caramelizes onto the mushrooms making them almost like candy. Then he eats them as a snack.
And Warren suggested yet another variation to mimic bacon—hickory salt (or another smoked salt such as Celtic smoked sea salt). Toss the mushrooms with 2 tablespoons olive oil and smoked salt to taste.
If jalapeno bacon is your passion, dust the mushroom slices with a pinch of cayenne before baking. Hey, why not go all the way and try a pinch of cinnamon, too.