Friday, November 11, 2011

Pickled Shiitakes and the Return of the Graphs

This tangy mushroom side dish has been on my mind for about nine months now since I first had something similar at Angelica Kitchen, and in my bookmarks list for at least two since getting a bang-up deal on dried shiitakes at the local Asian market.  If you like mushrooms and Asian flavors, these are absolutely amazing for an incredibly low amount of effort.

According to the internet, the most popular inspiration for pickled shiitakes is a recipe from David Chang's Momofuku cookbook.  Once David Chang served me a parfait of goat cheese, tapioca, beet root, and walnuts, and it was fantastic.  But I've never been to any of the Momofuku restaurants, even though I'm sure I would love the food, because I'm of the opinion that, when in a city as large and exciting as New York, you should never ever wait more than 20 minutes when you want to eat.  I refuse to believe that any pork bun, fried chicken, or bowl of ramen, regardless of the quality, is worth three hours of my time that could be much better spent elsewhere in the area on loftier pursuits.  I feel so strongly about this, that I've brought back the cost-benefit analysis graph to illustrate my point.

Take the case of the simple falafel sandwich. One of my all-time favorite foods, I'm lucky to have access to no fewer than 8 different falafel establishments within walking distance of my apartment. A solid and tasty meal that I enjoy for dinner at least once a week in Hoboken, I would never ever consider going to the mirror establishment on MacDougal Street for the exact sandwich, even when I'm in the area, since there is a perpetual line of 5+ customers deep.  Consider at least 3 minutes per customer, and my favorite food is suddenly not worth it. Whereas, the sort of bland, not super exciting noodle soup that I can get across the street from my office is absolutely worth it compared to the several hours of wait time at trendy ramen places.

The point I'm dancing around is this: I don't know how these marinated mushrooms are supposed to be served at Momofuku since I will never go there.  What I do know is that they are really really delicious, even when you half-ass the ingredients as you see in parentheses below.  I don't think they would go well with a normal noodle soup since they're quite salty, but could gussy up the bland one from across the street quite handsomely.  Really, you can use these mushrooms like kimchi: kind of a side, and also a punchy flavor addition to whatever the hell you want.  A trash salad, for instance.

Pickled Shiitakes
Adapted from Saveur (coopted from Momofuku)

Makes 2 cups (480mL)
Total time: 45-60 minutes (Active time <10 min)
  • 1.5 oz (43g) dried shiitake mushrooms (about half of a normal package)
  • 1/2 cup (120mL) soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup (120mL) sherry vinegar (or a half/half mixture of rice wine vinegar and Chinese cooking wine if you don't keep things like sherry vinegar on-hand)
  • 1/3 cup (70g) sugar (I used brown, and don't think it matters)
  • 3" (7.5cm) piece of ginger, peeled (or 3 tsp of dried ginger, in a pinch)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)
Put mushrooms in a large bowl and cover with 2.5 cups (600mL) of boiling water (they will try to float, so push them down until covered).  Soak for at least 15 minutes.  Drain, reserving 2 cups (480mL) of liquid.  Chop the mushrooms into slivers if you like them that way.

Combine the drained mushrooms, reserved mushroom liquid, and remaining ingredients in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove pan from heat, let cool, and transfer to a jar or other container.  Will keep in the fridge for at least a month.


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