Mar 22, 2013

Shiitake Bacon

What if I told you that mushrooms could taste like bacon? Would you believe me?

How many tastes are there, anyway? Sweet, sour, bitter, salty and….? For the longest time, scientists only recognized these four tastes. But then, lo and behold, another was discovered. Its name: UMAMI. It means “yummy” in Japanese. I’m not kidding. But what is it really? It’s an amino acid called glutamate, naturally occurring in meats, cheeses and… you guessed it—mushrooms! In particular, Shiitake mushrooms.

Here’s the history of umami: In the late 1800s, a Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda was enjoying a bowl of dashi, a classic Japanese soup made from seaweed, when he sensed that he was tasting something beyond the four taste categories. But what was it? Being a chemist, Ikeda could find out. He knew what he was tasting was, as he wrote, “common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat but… not one of the four well-known tastes.” Ikeda went into his lab and found the secret ingredient. He wrote in a journal for the Chemical Society of Tokyo that it was glutamic acid (glutamate), but he decided to rename it “umami.”

Making shiitake bacon takes a bit of time for the amount of delicious “bacon” that you get in the end (mushrooms SHRINK). I would not necessarily make this often. But for a special occasion when you are having company over for brunch, perhaps, and want to wow your guests with your vegan culinary magic, then this is the recipe to make! Jaws will drop. I promise you.

Ingredients:

  • shiitake mushrooms 
  • olive oil 
  • salt 

Now don’t go getting all, “Oh, Helyn, why are you using salt AND oil??” Because it’s such a small amount that it’s worth the resultant amazingness. And no, believe it or not, you don’t need to add smoke flavor!

before and after baking… the bottom picture is actually mid-baking–still not brown enough
I think it’s uncanny how the mushrooms even look a little like bacon strips!
Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Remove the mushroom stems and slice caps into 1/4″ pieces.
  4. Pour a little olive oil into a small bowl.
  5. Dip your fingers into the oil and rub a SMALL amount on each mushroom, both sides. Then place them on the baking sheet. The mushrooms will immediately absorb the oil. It won’t even look like there’s any oil on them! You’ll be tempted to put more. DON’T. I did this the first go-around and the strips wound up swimming in oil as they cooked.
  6. Sprinkle with a SMALL amount of sea salt.
  7. Bake for 10-15 minutes, then flip.
  8. Continue checking and flipping about every 5-10 minutes. Don’t just put them in the oven and walk away. They require watching and tending, just like regular bacon. You want them to be CRISP and BROWN. They will shrink. A lot. Don’t do what I did and stand there at the stove, eating half of them to “test for doneness.” You’ll be able to tell when they’re crisp. They curl up a bit. Push them around with tongs and you’ll see that they are hard and move around easily. I can’t stress this enough: make sure they are crisp and brown. Otherwise they will still taste like mushrooms and not bacon. I’m labeling this recipe as a “condiment” because you really can’t do much else with them besides put them on top of things… a salad or some other dish like tofu scramble. I wish I could find huge shiitake mushrooms in the store. They would be great in a vegan BLT. But these are so small they would get lost. Oh, yeah, that’s another thing. Make sure to buy the largest mushrooms you can find. UPDATE: I have tried this with portobello mushrooms and it is NOT the same flavor at all. You must use shiitakes!
  9. Another sign that your cute little mushroom cap bacon is done is that your kitchen will begin to smell like…. bacon. I got up early to make these this morning and my honey came flying down the stairs half asleep, “Are you making bacon and eggs?!?” Haha. That was funny.
  10. Place the crispy, done pieces on a paper towel to absorb any oil that will have leaked out during the baking process.

Eat more mushrooms, please.

I first had mushroom bacon early this month at Plant, a 5-star vegan restaurant in Asheville. I was amazed at the flavor resemblance to pork bacon. You will be, too!

My dish at Plant with shiitake mushroom bacon
“What if I told you… mushrooms can taste like bacon.”

“Take the red pill,” (yes, The Matrix is one of my favorite films of all time)

4 responses to “Shiitake Bacon”

  1. Kara says:

    Haha, I believe you AND Morpheus. That's awesome. I have some Shiitakes in the fridge, and may have to try this! Do you think there would be any benefit to adding liquid smoke, or do they naturally take on a smoky flavor after roasting? Maybe a little maple syrup would be good too…maple mushroom bacon?

  2. Helyn says:

    Hi Kara,
    Believe it or not they don't need any smoke. Although some maple might be interesting… the only thing I'd be worried about it whether or not they would burn because of the sugars in the syrup. You'd have to keep an extra close watch on them. As it is, you need to watch because they need to be browned but not burnt and there's a fine line! I hope you like them as much as we do… they disappear so fast (and they shrink when you cook them so make a lot)!

  3. Shonalika says:

    I clicked this recipe fully expecting to write a comment grieving over the fact that I still haven't bought any liquid smoke – I've been meaning to for so long – but this recipe doesn't call for any?!? Brilliant! I'm trying this recipe out at the first opportunity. Will it work with any mushroom, or is it a shittake-only kind of thing?:p

  4. Helyn says:

    Hi Shonalika! (great name!!). Shiitakes are the ONLY mushrooms that this will work with if you really want an amazing bacon-like flavor. Have fun!!

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