Thursday, October 23, 2014

Last Sigh of Summer: Shiitake Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches
by Mary Ellen

A new F&FP favorite, the Shiitake BLT!

Northern Wisconsin really didn't have summer this year. Mostly cool, rainy, and plagued with a never-ending, relentless crop of mosquitoes, no one wanted to spend much time outdoors.

Some things on the farm managed to shine through regardless. The blueberry crop was exceptional with all of the rain and cooler temps, producing berries the size of marbles! Our shiitake logs, properly cared for and tended in prior years that were kinder to my gardening self, busted out with succulent and richly flavored shiitake all summer long despite my general neglect to them and everything else garden related. And finally, finally, at the end of September, our June-planted tomatoes in the hoop house started turning red. This year, that first harvest of tomatoes pretty much coincided with the tireless march of Miss Happiness shiitake. Dense, solid and meaty, Miss Happiness has one of the longest fall seasons of all the cold weather strains. And man, does this girl have legs: she started in August and is still pinning at the end of October!

Fresh ingredients are always best.
So, in a last ditch attempt to salvage at least the flavor of summer, I decided to make BLT's. And to further redeem myself, I wasn't going to settle for just ordinary.

I am not a fan of bacon (although I do like Canadian bacon). I mostly detest the white part (its fat and texture) of regular bacon and although I tolerate turkey bacon, I squint while preparing it (to avoid its apparent super processed look and smell). It was time to try experimenting with one of those shiitake bacon recipes I've had stuck to my refrigerator for years now.  

Well, as it turns out, shiitake bacon is delicious. It really does taste just like bacon. Yes, it's putzy, but if you have some thick, solid, log grown shiitake, you can slice it, cure it (marinate) and roast it  in a hot oven. It has a rich and buttery flavor, complete with chewy centers and crispy edges. SB also makes a toothsome and healthy snack, as it stays crisp for several hours after cooling from the oven.  This very well may become my new bacon bit.  And of course, shiitake bacon pairs just as well with scrambled eggs or french toast for any non-BLT fans. (We've also heard that smoked shiitake are incomparable. Let us know if you've tried this!)

Here is the method: You will need about a cup of sliced mushrooms per person and that is a modest amount. You really should double the recipe for snacking. The following recipe produces enough bacon for about 4 SBLT's. Note: Allow at least an hour to prepare these. 

4 cups sliced shiitake

2 TBSP oil
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp liquid smoke
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
2 tsp maple syrup (optional)

Stem the shiitake and slice it thinly. 1/8th inch or less is preferable for the ultimate crispness.

Slicing your shiitakes thin ensures for some nice crispy "bacon".
To prepare the marinade, stir together all ingredients, and drizzle over the sliced shiitakes. Toss the mushrooms in the marinade until the slices are fairly well coated and let marinate at room temperature for at least 20 minutes or up to an hour. Stirring the mushrooms a time or two during that time helps speed things along. You can also marinate and refrigerate overnight to achieve comparable pork bacon cooking times in the morning.

These fresh shiitake were just covered in marinade.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F) and spread the mushrooms out onto a baking sheet. Use parchment or a silpat for easy work, or grease the sheet first.
Bake 20 minutes, stirring or turning halfway through. If the mushrooms are really wet you may need to drain away the water halfway through.

Increase the heat to 375 degrees (F) and check every 10 minutes or so, more often towards the end. Usually if the bacon is sliced thinly it is done in 10-15 minutes after the oven heat is increased. Remove the mushrooms onto a paper towel and blot. It should be browned and irresistible, but not burned. You might experiment with other seasoning in the marinade or with thicknesses of cut; or grilling marinated whole thin-capped mushrooms.  

The end result will not disappoint!
For inspiration, check out, for the original shiitake bacon recipe plus other great vegan mushroom recipe ideas.