Summertime is a time for simple food. I know my summer will be brief and intense, so it’s more important to bury my fingers deep in the soil of my garden, or walk along one of the lushly overgrown creek banks than to spend time fussing over elaborate meals.
That’s where the grill comes in. For me, the whole point of using a gas grill is to smoke my food. So I soak my chips, get a glass of something cold, and mind the grill while it infuses deep, smoky umami into my food.
I get why people love the grill. Don’t be fooled by attempts to make it look difficult, it’s really just standing around outside while the fire does the work. Summertime!
So, I love to pop by the farmer’s market and pick up perfectly ripe, fresh vegetables and smoke them. I’m lucky that the St Paul Farmer’s Market has a mushroom vendor, Tom Peterson of Birch Creek Farms. Every Saturday, you can select from his pick of the week, ranging from the familiar baby portabellas and shiitakes, to more exotic pink oyster mushrooms and morels. He even sells chaga tea.
This week, he had a delicate variety of an oyster mushroom-like mushroom he called a Paho, I think. To a myco-phile there is a very important distinction there, but to you, me and most people, this is an oyster mushroom, so don’t worry about finding this specific variety to make the recipe.
I’ve written about smoking tomatoes on the grill in a past post, click here to read about infusing umami with smoke. Umami is that elusive hard-to-describe savory, meaty quality that comes from certain amino acids and chemicals in all food, not just meat. It’s a good thing to harness when you want to make vegetables more satisfying and exciting.
Mushrooms are a potent source of umami chemistry, too. It’s the glutamate, present in all mushrooms, and even more concentrated in dried mushrooms. In this way of cooking them, the mushrooms will become concentrated and shrunken, and infuse with smoke, making them into true umami-bombs.
So, I soaked some hickory chips for an hour, and pulled the mushroom clusters apart. A drizzle of olive oil, some salt and pepper, and I was good to go. I took the grate off the grill, positioned my rusty smoker box in the bottom, and got out a silicone mat I bought for cooking vegetables on the grill. It’s just a perforated mat, to keep things from falling into the fire. You could use a grill wok, basket, or construct a foil tray to hold the mushrooms.
Once the fire was hot, I dumped the wet chips in. This is the point where you need patience. Close the grill and wait for smoke. The wet chips take a while to get smoldering. You don’t want them to be dry and burn up right away, you want a slow smolder. This is when you do a little weeding, drink a little iced tea, and hover in the yard until you smell smoke.
Once there is smoke, you can sprinkle a little water on to make it smokier. Turn off the heat on one side of the grill and put the grate on, then the mat or wok on the cool side. Put the mushrooms on and close the lid. Keep the lid closed as much as you can bear. Every ten minutes or so, check on the smoke, turning it down if you have good smoke production, and sprinkling with a few drops of water just before closing the lid. After about 20 minutes, the mushrooms will look slightly shrunken and browned. Turn off the grill, close the lid, and move the mushrooms right over the chips. Let them infuse for another 20-30 minutes.
Now you have a super flavorful ingredient that you can use in all sorts of fun ways. I made a bruschetta, but a pasta, pizza or panini would be equally fantastic. A bowl of soba with sesame and greens, topped with smoked mushrooms? Yes please.
Smoked mushrooms are easy, and you can throw extra on and freeze them, too.
Smoked Oyster Mushroom Bruschetta
8 ounces oyster mushrooms
extra virgin olive oil
coarse salt, freshly cracked pepper
3 cups soaked woodchips, I used hickory, apple would be good too.
1 whole wheat baguette
1 medium tomato, diced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, slivered
Spreadable cheese- I used Miyoko’s Truffle Cheese and Triple Creme with Chives, but you can use your choice of soft cashew cheese or chevre
1. Preheat the grill and prepare for smoking (see above.) Separate the mushrooms, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper.
2. Smoke the mushrooms.
3. Slice the baguette and toast it- extra points if you brush it with olive oil and grill it. Spread with your cheese and top with tomatoes, basil and smoked mushrooms, sprinkle with a little more coarse salt. Serve immediately.