Archive | October, 2010

Oyster Mushroom Oysters

30 Oct

Further proof that all good ideas begin with a pun.

For my first mushroom cookoff with the Mycological Association of Washington, I managed to set the bar pretty high with a wicked Chicken of the Woods find. It’s the massive orange thing below.  I prepared it quite simply, sautéing it with a bit of lemon zest, garlic, white wine, butter, and asparagus, but it was fresh and delicious.  Plus there was a bit of an awe factor what with the fifty-pound fungi find that fueled the food.

Laetiporus sulphureus: The Chicken of the Woods


So I felt that I had a lot to live up to for my second cookoff.  Unfortunately, during my foray into Greenbelt Park the weekend before the event, I found not a single edible fungi.  All I found were ticks and an itinerant “drink chef” named Robert Smith who walked here from Chicago.  I obviously had to have the latter over for a dram of HG La Fée Verte (very local absinthe, if you catch my drift).  The former came home without an invite.

Robert Smith. Not a mixologist. A drink chef.


Settling for storebought ‘shroms, however, just didn’t sit well with me.  They can still be tasty, but they’re nothing special in themselves.  Other myco-folks would be sharing their hard-earned hauls, so I had to do something interesting for it to feel like a fair exchange.

I don’t even recall exactly how I was struck with the idea, but I know it was a Sunday, I was in a solarium, and I had spherification on the brain.  The idea was half-baked, of course, and it went something like this:

There are oyster mushrooms.  Why not mushroom oysters?  That would be clever.  Oyster mushroom oysters?….This is a great idea.

Fresh in my memory were translucent sacs created when spherifying liquids in an alginate bath.  I had recently (~4 days prior) been bit by the hydrocolloid bug.  My reverse alginate spheres had always looked a bit oblong and mucousy translucent.  So do oysters.  A darling coincidence, to be sure.

So I made a simple oyster mushroom soup with a bit of  extra calcium added, then dropped sponfulls into a bath of sodium alginate.  Voila… oyster mushroom oysters.  The spitting image of the real deal.  Well they were a bit off.  Needed something.  Ah, minced scallions!  Good for the soup anyway, and they add some color to the monotone guts of the soup oyster.  Served with proper oyster fixings, they should be slurped like a raw oyster.  The warm, savory soup bursts on your tongue. Delicious.

This hooliganery landed me second place in the cookoff out of a good 50 people.  I ran out of tasting samples before the queue forming at my table had subsided, so I fantasize that I could have nabbed first if I merely had a bit more to share.



Drying Cayenne Peppers

22 Oct

Both functional and beautiful

A simple task, but some minor tweaks in drying procedure give some stunning results.  I’ve honestly never seen a sexier dried pepper.

A single cayenne pepper plant will likely churn out spicy little fruits more quickly than you can use them. My housemates and I are currently learning how inundating our eight cayenne plants can be.  The easiest way to deal with a bumper crop of these peppers is to dry and store them.  There are a few ways I’ve gone about this:

1) Leave unused peppers out on the counter.  Most of them will dry into something quite usable in a few weeks.  This is easy.  It happens spontaneously when you forget about a box of peppers somewhere.  The peppers appear quite shriveled and lose some color, but they keep their spice and most of their sweet flavor.

2)Using a needle and thread, pierce and string the peppers together into a garland.  Hand this up somewhere to dry.  It’s a bit of work, but the end result is quite slick when you hang it up.  When the peppers fully dry they are a bit shriveled and do still lose some color, but neither effect is as pronounced as in the peppers left out to dry on a surface.  Piercing them may help the water to evaporate from the inside of the pepper more effectively, which helps preserve them a bit better.

3)Use a dehydrator.  It may be no surprise that this is the best way to go, assuming you have one.  Heating the air a bit increases how much water vapor it can hold, so the warm dry air wafting over your peppers can dry them more quickly which preserves the fresher flavors and texture of the pepper.  I’ve tried a few variations:

  • Whole peppers in 125F dehydrator: Good, but took a long time for the center of the pepper to dry.  The pulp around the seeds remained gummy for a few days despite the surface being tough/stiff and leathery.
  • Whole Peppers in 145F dehydrator:  Dried more quickly, but the color was not as well preserved.  Tended more towards an orange than a deep crimson.  Flavor seemed a bit less nuanced.
  • Rolled and slit peppers in 125F:  I rolled the body of the pepper between my forefinger and thumb to loosen the pulp and seeds from the flesh, then I made a ~1/4″ slit near the top of the pepper for water to evaporate from. These were exceptional.  The dried flesh got crisp in about 2 days, and the seeds shook around inside like a rattle.  This was proof that the pepper was thoroughly dried, center and all.  The color, however, was what blew me away.  The flesh looks like a transparent ruby parchment with an opalescent sheen, and the green caps and stems are a chartreuse crepe paper.  The bodies shatter into shards of fantastic pepper flakes when pinched, and the seeds have a pleasant crisp crunchiness when nibbled on.  Also, the flesh has a very sweet flavor that lacks much spiciness in some parts.  I never would have thought of cayennes being sweet until the day I bit into one of these.

Pictures of each are on their way. (update 1/4/11, I repeated these a few more times and am going to borrow my roommate’s DSLR to take better closeups than my phone camera can manage).  Here’s part of the collection that’s been taking over my desk.

Also, I know you could also dry peppers in an oven, but the high heat tends to kill color and rob flavor from what I hear.  I believe it, since even a 20 degree increase in the dehydrator seemed to have some detrimental effects, I’d recommend avoiding the oven.