Sweet ‘n sour umami pickled shiitake mushrooms

One of my husband’s pet peeves – one that gets him gnashing his teeth and rolling his eyes – is recipes on blogs with long back stories before they give you any useful, functional information. So with that in mind, I’m taking a military approach to this post. I’m going to keep it in bullet points and then I’m going to share this gloriously delicious and simple recipe with you lucky folks.

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Without further ado:

  • These are just about the most delicious things ever.
  • They have a firm, meaty texture, but a deliciously complex flavour profile with a sweetness, sourness, and an earthy umaminess all coming through in a single bite. (I can literally eat these by the jar.)
  • I got this recipe from the chef, Nick, at a new buzzing restaurant in Melville, Johannesburg, called Glory. They make a wonderful chicken dish served in four courses and the central course is crispy chicken breast served with boa buns, a variety of pickles, and other forms of deliciousness. These mushrooms are a real stand out for me, and when I complemented the chef on them, he sent me the recipe over Facebook.
  • The ingredients are the hardest thing to source, and these you can actually get pretty easily from your local Chinese grocer. They’re very cheap.

And now, the recipe.

Ingredients 

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Really very few ingredients! 
  • 1L water
  • 500g Dried shiitake mushroom
  • 500g sugar (I found this a little sweeter than what I’ve had at his restaurant, I’m going to try them at 400g of sugar next time)
  • 500g Thai 5% Distilled Vinegar
  • 250g peeled young ginger (I used 200g peeled normal ginger here)
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A close up of the vinegar – I’m not sure what makes it different to other vinegars.

Method

  1. Heat water until it starts to simmer.
  2. Add the sugar and ginger, and reduce the heat to 60 degrees Celsius for 15 mins. (This I found very difficult to measure since I don’t have a thermometer; and it ended up being a lot of guess work. But they still turned out wonderfully!)
  3. Add vinegar and shiitake and continue cooking for about 30 mins or until the mushrooms are completely hydrated. (This is quite amazing to watch. They go in light, like pieces of wood, wrinkled and sad, but after cooking for a while they turn plump and wet and as smooth as if they were freshly picked that morning. This took me more like 90 minutes but you can really see when they’re hydrated.)
  4. Fish the mushrooms out of the pickling brine (but keep the brine!) and allow to cool. Remove their stems (the stems have a tough, chewy texture) and slice to desired thickness – about 2mm/3mm.
  5. Add mushrooms and brine to sterilised jars to store for later use.
  6. PRO TIP FROM CHEF NICK: Keep the brine and add a splash of 100% dark sesame oil in a serving bowl for an amazing vinegar sauce that goes great as a base for rice /noodles/ salad dressing / steamed veg marinade etc.

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SERVING SUGGESTIONS 

  • Fried chicken
  • Pulled pork
  • Steak

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