Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mushroom Apocalypse on a Desert

I get a lot apocalypse related keyword searches as a result of the name of my blog, so this year as we approach the ever impending doom of the Apocalypse that is predicted to occur on 21.12.2012, I will be on an endeavour to cook some apocalypse inspired posts.

Here’s my first apocalypse inspired dish - “Mushroom Apocalypse on a Desert”.

One of the predictions for the Apocalypse on 21.12.2012 is that there will be a galactic alignment, where the Sun will align with the center of the Milky Way galaxy for the first time in about 26,000 years. Some predict that this galactic alignment has the potential to create a shift in the Earth's poles and cause a series of catastrophic environmental events. In this scenario, we could be obliterated, everything is destroyed, it will be a dry and hostile environment like a desert (a common environment for post-apocalyptic movies, for example, Mad Max 2). Survival above ground will be difficult, the general solution will be to seek shelter underground. In fact, sales of bunkers have gone up after the Japanese earthquakes last year, business is booming in doomsday bunkers.

So for this dish I wanted to use the desert as a theme. Polenta was an ideal contender to be the desert as it resembles sand. But more importantly, polenta was originally and still is classified as peasant food, which will be the state that we will be reverted back to once the apocalypse occurs right? Polenta is easy to cook, has a long storage life, and is cheap and filling. It’s something that you would want to pack into your apocalypse survival kit as it will be relied on as a food staple as it always has been during times of hardship and struggle, like war, famine, tough economic times…

When thinking about what I could cook to put on top of the desert, one of the first things that came to mind were mushrooms for many reasons:

•    Foraging is all the rage at the moment and this trend will continue into the apocalypse as supermarkets will cease to operate and exist, so we will be hunting and gathering again like our ancestors did. You often see mushrooms out in the wild so it’s food that you can try foraging for in an apocalypse. But be careful because a lot of wild mushrooms are dangerous (deadly even) and not fit for human consumption. This also means that mushrooms can be used as a defense weapon by cooking the poisonous ones and feeding them to your enemies. Check out this link and commit to memory deadly looking fungi.

•    Mushrooms are easy to grow and do not require sunlight which is beneficial when you are living in an underground bunker in an apocalypse.

•    The golden rule for using mushrooms is to never wash them. That’s a bonus right? Because water will be scarce in an apocalypse. Mushrooms are extremely porous and soak up water like a sponge, if they are washed, it can spoil their texture, create too much moisture and impair their flavour. To prepare mushrooms for cooking, you can brush them with a small cleaning brush or wipe them carefully with a damp kitchen towel.

•    Mushrooms can solve any problems that arise when vegetarians and carnivores have to cook and eat together in an apocalypse. Mushrooms are considered meat for vegetarians – thick flesh with a meaty texture and savoury flavour, it will satisfy vegetable and meat eaters alike. 

I wasn’t always a fan of mushrooms, my first experiences of eating it was raw in salads and sandwiches, and I don’t think that mushrooms taste that good raw. No offence to raw foodists but food it meant to be thrown over a fire. Browning mushrooms causes the Maillard Reaction which develops and intensifies its flavour. When you eat mushrooms that have been cooked properly, they are a real treat.

There are hundreds of edible mushrooms and if you are going to be eating a lot of mushrooms, like I will be in the apocalypse, you want to know how to cook them a few different ways to keep things interesting. I tried to find as many different ways to cook mushrooms as I could and ended up with five different ways, including three methods that I have never tried before – deep frying mushrooms, confit mushrooms and cooking mushrooms en papillote.

 (Can you name all the mushroom in this photo?)
(soaking porcini)

Mushroom Apocalypse on a Desert

Polenta for the Desert

•    Soft polenta – Bring 3 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to boil in a saucepan, add ½ cup of polenta in a constant stream with one hand and whisk vigorously with the other until the mixture starts to boil. Continue whisking for 2-3 minutes, then turn the heat down to a low simmer, stir the mixture more or less constantly for ~20-30 minutes until the polenta comes away from the sides of the saucepan, has a soft and creamy texture that is not runny or grainy. Add a tablespoon or more of butter and stir in until it melts.

Mushrooms cooked 5 ways (I used 7 different types of mushrooms)

•    Saute swiss brown mushrooms – Slice the swiss brown mushrooms. Melt butter in a frying pan, and sauté the mushrooms on a high heat until they have turned golden brown and the released juices have evaporated. (Note: “Don’t overcrowd the pan” – or the mushrooms will steam rather than brown)

(This is my favourite way of cooking mushrooms and how I usually cook them)

•    Deep fried enoki mushrooms – Heat 2 inches of peanut oil in a small saucepan and add in enoki mushrooms, in small batches at a time and deep fry until golden, this will be very quick and take around 10-20 seconds.

(I went out on a whim with this one. I decided to deep fry enoki mushrooms for texture, although I am not sure that I would do this again in the future as the spongey texture of mushrooms is not ideal deep frying material. It released a lot of water into the oil and splattered a lot, it was actually quite a dangerous experiment! I think this would work better if the mushrooms are covered in some tempura style batter before deep frying).

•    Roasted portobello mushrooms – Brush the tops of portobello mushrooms with a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Place mushrooms on a baking tray lined with foil or greaseproof paper and roast for 15 minutes until they have browned.

•    Oyster, enoki and hon-shimeji mushrooms en papillote (baked in a bag) – Marinate mushrooms with a miso mixture (1/2 tablespoon white miso paste, ½ tablespoon mirin, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon honey, splash of extra virgin olive oil, pinch of salt and pepper). Split the mushrooms between pieces of greaseproof paper, top with thyme and scrunch into a parcel, secured with string (will look like a money bag). Place the parcels on a baking tray and cook at 180C in the oven until you see juices being released in the bag – about 12-15 minutes.

Marinated mushrooms
Mushroom parcel
 Mushrooms en papillote

•    Confit mushrooms (adapted from The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander) –

(Note: Why it is important to read a recipe before you make it! – I came across this recipe for mushroom confit from the Cook’s Companion and bought all the ingredients for it, then on the day that I had planned for apocalypse cooking I read the recipe and found out that you are required to seal and leave the mushroom confit for at least 2 months. I had not planned for this additional 2 months and when I tried the mixture after cooking it I found it really tasty so I decided to use it straight away, but I’m sure that it would have tasted much better after storing for 2 months. The recipe was slightly modified as a result with more olive oil added during the beginning of the cooking process, instead of pouring it over the top at the end)


•    1 head garlic
•    15g dried porcini mushroom
•    300g button mushrooms
•    1 bay leaf
•    1 sprig thyme
•    100ml extra virgin olive oil
•    freshly ground salt and black pepper
•    1/4 cup sherry vinegar


Preheat oven to 180C. Wrap garlic head in oiled foil and bake in oven until tender (30-45 minutes).

Pour boiling water over the dried porcini mushrooms and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Lift the porcini mushrooms from soaking liquid and squeeze (strain the soaking liquid and freeze for later use in a soup or stew).

Place porcini, roasted garlic, button mushroom, thyme, bay leaf, and ½ oil in a baking dish which can also be used on top of stove (or in my case a pan that can be used in the oven). Grind some pepper over the top and cover tightly with foil. Roast for about 30 minutes until the mushrooms are tender.

Transfer baking dish/pan to top of stove and add sherry vinegar over medium-high heat, stirring to dislodge any stuck-on bits. Allow vinegar to bubble up and reduce. Remove garlic and peel the skin off. Discard thyme, bay leaves and garlic skins.

Put the garlic, mushrooms, all the juices and 1/4 of the leftover olive oil in a food processor and pulse to a coarse puree. Taste for seasoning, add in salt or pepper if desired.

Put the mushroom mixture into a jar and pour over the remaining ¼ of olive oil, use within 2 weeks.

I used the mushroom confit straight away but if you follow the recipe, ideally it should have been packed into a hot, sterilized jar and left for at least 2 months.

To serve: Use your imagination to plate up the polenta and mushrooms in your view of a mushroom apocalypse on a desert.

More mushroom recipes -


  1. Quite apart from the subversive naughtiness of using apocalpyse in almost every sentance, I must say this is a beautiful post with lovely picutres.

    1. Thanks Ed :) This post was inspired by the idea that the Apocalypse is happening this year and the concept of this dish is a reflection of it, so there was a point I was trying to get across but I guess I won't have to reiterate this point so much in my future apocalypse dishes....just wait for my Zombies post!

  2. Everything looks so good! I used to hate mushrooms when I was younger, and I also put it down to their presence in green salads. Raw mushrooms are just not as nice as the cooked version (unless sliced paper-thin and used to eat a great dressing).

    I was certain that I first used enoki because of a recipe on this site, but I can't find it, so now I'm at as a loss as to where it was... But after I tried that first recipe, I pan-fried enoki to get a crispy texture similar to the one above. It sounds safer than deep-frying, but you do have to sort out the very tiny ones, because they tend to burn when you're not looking.

    I have not had mushrooms in too long. I think I may have to try some, tonight.

    1. Thanks Melissa :) I don't have any recipes on my blog that uses enoki but I love adding them to stir fries and soups.

      Pan frying enoki sounds like a much better idea then deep frying. Apparently mushrooms are 90% water so a lot of water with a lot of oil is not a good mix!

      My favourite type of mushrooms is the Asian shiitake, I use them on a regular basis.