The shroomiest mushroom risotto, without breaking bank
when powdered and browned in hot grease, dried shiitake’s exponentially multiplied surface areas darken and deepen boundlessly, releasing every molecules of that shroominess that would otherwise cost you a limb
If you have ever found yourself frozen in front of the mushroom isles at your local Whole Foods Market, cold sweats dripping down as you struggle to understand how on earth could a fungi — categorically no different than the molds crawling underneath your drywalls — be charging sometimes more than $50 per pound, while feeling utterly shitty about yourself, well, this recipe is for you:
Poor man’s mushroom risotto.
I’m speaking from a place of deep empathy. Having been born as a relentlessly cheap human being, I understand the hurt when even a dickhead-shaped vegetation that lives off of decomposed matters could take one look at me, and smirk. A brainless, judgy brainless sponge that grows next to if not on top of rotten shits, thinks I’m not good enough. Who do they think they are? By the way I’m not talking about the cheap mushrooms like White Buttons, pfff... who do you think I am? I’m talking about the delicious ones, the truly robust, earthy, and nutty-flavored mushrooms with Elvish names, Chanterelle, Lactarius Indigo, Blue Foot, that grows in an enchanted woods with the fairies and talk to birds. Those fuckers. I ain’t sayin’ it’s a gold digger; but it ain’t messin’ with no broke n-beeeep.
Can you tell this is personal?
So for years, or more accurately since the 24 heads of dried morel we obtained from our France road trip had run dry, I’ve been secretly doing this.
Dried shiitake mushroom.
Cheap, common, found almost wherever Asian groceries stand and season-neutral. Why is it generally much more affordable than other varieties of dried mushrooms such as porcini, morels and etc? No idea (psst, because it’s Asian). But I can assure you that flavor-wise, it does not dwarf in comparison. In fact, it has been aiding the flavors and complexities of a huge number of Asian dishes, soups and stews, precisely because of its high natural-occuring MSG and a deep, musky, earthy aroma. But regrettably, typically cooked whole or in slices, its true potential has yet to be realized by the general public.
It wants to be, no, needs to be, powered.
Think about it. Remained as a whole, or slices, or even finely diced, the mushrooms are only allowed a limited exposure to direct heat and caramelization. But when powdered and browned in hot grease, its exponentially multiplied surface areas darken and deepen boundlessly, releasing every molecules of that shroominess that would otherwise cost you a limb. As a supporting role, usually a couple tablespoons will suffice. But in the case of carrying an entire Italian culinary staple, say risotto, to whole new height, I suggest we go to town.
Almost 1/2 cup of shiitake mushroom powder will fry slowly in chicken fat, as transformative as the making of a dark roux, until its pale brown complexion takes on the color between cinnamon and dark chocolate, until its faintly woody aroma expands into a pungency that is almost spicy and sweet. All this magic is then extracted by the chicken broth, and delivered into every single grains of arborio rice in a silky, totally un-grainy finish. Although you may deem the appearance of fish sauce and soy sauce as out of place, but they only amplify and compliments the shroominess without making an entrance. I urge you not to swap.
So there. Go buy expensive dickheads if you want to be like that. But me? I’m sticking with this.
- 6 dried shiitake mushroom (see note)
- 6 tbsp schmaltz/chicken fat, or pork fat, or any other fat you can collect from roasting meats
- 3 small or 2 large shallots, finely minced
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 2 cloves of garlics, grated
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cup arborio rice
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus more if needed
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 2 tsp fish sauce, plus more to adjust
- 1 tsp extra dark soy sauce, plus more to adjust
- 1 heaping cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- Extra virgin olive oil to serve
- Depending on the source or condition they have been stored in, dried shiitake mushrooms can vary from being very dry and brittle to slightly stale. In order to make them as brittle as possible for grinding and also for freshness, store them in the freezer in an unzipped bag. The freezer will pull any excess moisture away and make grinding a lot easier. Once they have been frozen for a day, break the mushroom into smaller pieces with your hands, then grind them in the spice-grinder until finely powdered. You'll need 7 tbsp for this recipe. Store the rest in an air-tight jar until next time.
- In a large pot over medium heat, whisk together schmaltz/chicken fat and 7 tbsp of shiitake mushroom powder. Stirring constantly and cook until the mixture has turned from a light caramel color to a deep chocolate brown, about 2~3 minutes. Add minced shallots and sea salt, and cook until softened, then add grated garlic, fresh thyme, ground white and black pepper, and cook until fragrant.
- Add the arborio rice, stir and cook for a couple more minutes, then add 2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth, bay leaves, fish sauce and extra dark soy sauce. Keep the mixture at a simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Then add 1 more cup of chicken broth, and when that is absorbed as well, add 1/2 cup more. You'll need more or less 4 cups of chicken broth in total until the rice is al dente, with a slight bite in the center of the grain. Remember that you can always add more broth but you can't take away, so don't add too much at a time especially at the end.
- Once the rice reaches ideal texture, add grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, unsalted butter and Dijon mustard. Whip and stir the risotto rigorously with a wooden spoon until creamy, even and silky. Re-season with more sea salt if needed.
- Serve immediately with more grated cheese and drizzles of extra virgin olive oil.
Dried shiitake mushrooms are basically the most standard dried mushrooms you'll find in any Asian groceries or Chinatown. They are widely common and available, and generally very affordable compared to other types of dried mushrooms, yet robust in flavor.