Friday, February 26, 2016

Mushroom Catsup: I Muddle About With a Historic Recipe

One of my diverse interests is in historical recipes and cooking methods. If you have any interest in this sort of thing I encourage you to browse through "Enquire Within Upon Everything." This is a Victorian era tome that is (among many, many other things) chock full of insights into the culinary practices of the day.

Reading through EWUE an item that comes up again and again is "Mushroom Catsup." It is used as both an ingredient and a condiment in a variety of applications. The mushroom catsup that would have been consumed at the time was not of the thickened tomato catsup type substance we have today. It would have been something more akin to Worcestershire sauce.

Having developed a healthy curiosity concerning mushroom catsup I remembered having seen a recipe for it on one of my other favorite sources for historical recipes -- the Jas. Townsend and Son youtube channel. Jas. Townsend and Son run a business selling all sorts of wonderful items for Revolutionary War era reenacting. They also do a lot of period recipe videos on the channel which my daughter and I are very fond of watching. Here is the Jas. Townsend recipe for mushroom catsup from their blog.

I made that catsup recipe and it is really very good, you should try it. However, I can never leave well enough alone. I have tinkered with it and come up with my own recipe that is a bit more mushroom-y and has a stronger umami punch. Giving credit where credit is due I will say that my recipe is adapted from the Jas. Townsend and Son method.

Here is what you need -

2lbs mushrooms chopped
2 tablespoons salt
2 bay leaves
4 or 5 black peppercorns 
3 or 4 cloves 
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Crushed red pepper (quantum sufficit)
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish 
1 to 2 teaspoons mushroom catsup powder *(I'll explain below)
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 large onion chopped
Pinch MSG

Start by sprinkling the chopped mushrooms with the salt and sort of smashing it all with a wooden spoon. Leave it in a bowl overnight and you will see the delicious liquor of the mushroom leach out. Put the mushrooms with their liquid in a pot with all of the other ingredients.

Bring to a boil and let it simmer gently for about an hour stirring frequently. I pour the mess into a chinois and mush as much liquid as I can out of the solids. As recommended by the Townsend recipe I save the solids and dehydrate them. I spread on foil and put in the oven on the lowest setting until completely dry.

I run the dried mushroom mixture through a spice grinder to get the mushroom powder I mention in the recipe. This stuff is also great for dusting steaks, flavoring gravy, and adding some mushroom kick to soups or stews. It adds a rich depth of flavor to the mushroom catsup.

I should mention that I also include a little MSG which might be a bit controversial. MSG has been proven, to my satisfaction, as a safe ingredient. I think it is perfectly fine to use it under certain circumstances. Feel free to leave it out, but it really adds a little something to this recipe.

After straining the solids you are left with a pint or so of delicious liquid.

 I have replaced the cider vinegar in the original recipe with white vinegar as it lets more of the mushroom flavor come through. This catsup is a bit sharp at this point and would benefit from a little aging. I bottle the mushroom catsup and process in a water bath for a half of an hour or so.

This will go in the basement for a couple months to mellow out.

There you have it -- delicious mushroom catsup! Put it on your meat, put it on your rice, put it on your cornflakes. Get weird with it.

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