I was a vegetarian from early childhood until I about six years ago (a long story involving the Sonoma County Fair's petting zoo and an ill-timed slice of pepperoni pizza). Even today, though I do enjoy meat, the person I share most of my meals with keeps kosher, so it's just easier to cook predominantly vegetarian and pescatarian meals for both of us.
Throughout my time as a vegetarian, and now, as a someone who still loves vegetarian food, I have been continually frustrated by vegetarian products masquerading as meat. It just seems like an insult to vegetables, which, in my opinion, are perfectly delicious as they are--no meat-ification needed.
Besides, some vegetables can even be naturally meaty...which brings me to Exhibit A: The King Oyster mushroom.
Mushrooms have long been a meat "substitute," especially in hearty dishes like pasta, or on vegetarian sandwiches, where their chewy texture and deep umami essence satisfies carnivorous cravings without the use of animal products.
On Friday night, to welcome Evan home from a sad but important trip he took, I cooked a special Shabbat dinner of whole wheat challah, crunchy tofu, kale salad, and thickly cut, slow-roasted slices of King Oysters with onions, smoked sea salt, fresh parsley, and olive oil.
"These are so smoky and meaty," he commented between mouthfuls. "They're almost like bacon."
And with that, the foodie floodgates in my brain were opened and, until I could get back into the kitchen to experiment, I could think of nothing other than how to turn the remaining mushrooms in the refrigerator into sweet, smoky, crispy bacon that even my kosher, mostly vegetarian boyfriend could eat.
I am pleased to tell you that I was blissfully successful. With some inspiration and guidance from this Serious Eats recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt I created something I know I will make again and again, whether alongside fried eggs, tucked inside a BLT or grilled cheese, or crumbled atop a Cobb salad.
In the Serious Eats recipe, smaller mushroomse are called for, but one reason the King Oysters seemed like an ideal base for this recipe is because of their size. Sliced lengthwise, they nicely resemble a halved slice of real bacon.
This also makes them an ideal size for sandwiches.
In the Serious Eats recipe, Alt-Lopez takes his mushroom chips to the next level by actually smoking them. Lacking a stovetop smoker (and being the owner of a smoke alarm that cries wolf at the tiniest amount of steam), I decided to try to coax some smoky flavor into my mushrooms with gorgeous smoked paprika...
...as well as a little smoked salt. This brand of the latter, from Trader Joe's, has apparently been discontinued, but I had about 1/2 a bottle in my cabinet. If you can't find smoked salt for a reasonable price at your grocery store, it's pretty easy and cheap to make at home.
I mixed these smoke-ifiers with some brown sugar (which always goes beautifully with bacon), and plenty of black pepper, and tossed the mixture with my mushroom strips, after giving them a dousing of extra virgin olive oil to help them further mimic bacon's fatty deliciousness.
The strips went onto a lightly greased baking sheet and into the oven at a relative low temperature (325 F) to get bacony and crisp.
The results? Crisp, meaty, umami-like-crazy mushroom bacon.
- extra virgin olive oil Pantry
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar Pantry
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked sea salt (if you can't find this, use regular kosher salt) $3 for 3 ounces
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika $1.50 for 1 ounce
- 1 teaspoon black pepper Pantry
- 2 large (or 3-4 smaller) King Oyster mushrooms, sliced into bacon strip-sized slices (about 1/8th inch thick) $0.50
Recipe Serves 4
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet with the extra virgin olive oil.
- In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, smoked (or regular) salt, smoked paprika, and black pepper. Stir to combine.
- Place the sliced mushrooms in a large mixing bowl.
- Drizzle with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and toss well to combine.
- Add the brown sugar mixture to the oiled mushrooms and use your hands or a spoon to toss well, ensuring each mushroom slice is well-coated.
- Arrange the mushrooms on the oiled baking sheet with space in between each one.
- Bake for 18-22 minutes, until the mushrooms turn dark brown.
- Flip the mushrooms gently, using a spatula.
- Bake for another 15-17 minutes, until very brown.
- Let cool for at least 10 minutes (this will also crisp the mushrooms).
- Serve immediately. Unused bacon will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.