Shitake Mushroom Heaven

Whenever we have Japanese guests to cook for, a switch in my brain turns on. I suddenly remember the dishes we’ve been served in Japan, or the recipes I’ve had the occasion to make in the temples where we stayed. The odd thing is when our guests leave, the switch turns off and I can hardly remember how to make anything Japanese-style even if I try. This recipe came out of one of those moments when Hojosan (Kuroda Roshi), our dear master from Tokyo was here, and when Shitake mushrooms simmered in dashi (stock) suddenly sprang to mind.

In traditional zen temple cooking (Shojin Ryori) there are several ingredients generally ignored and garlic, with its pungent aroma, is one of them. Oil is another if served in the lacquer oryoki eating bowls, although deep-fried tempura might show up as a side dish on a separate plate. Shitake mushrooms are used sparingly for dashi as they are often considered a luxury item, and can be very expensive. Being either ignored or luxurious, it’s seemingly unlikely that fried garlic with shitake would ever be served!

However, Hojosan loves garlic and he loves it fried. So when he and Yamamoto Roshi came to join our Seminar Retreat last week I took all the wonderful slightly-forbidden items and turned them into this little luxurious, naughty side dish. They are quite, quite heavenly.

Hojosan, Yamamoto Roshi & Tenkei

The mushrooms are best when left to slowly soak in lukewarm water for several hours or until plump. Submerging them with boiling water for an hour or two will also work at a pinch but they will lose some of their flavour and texture. I can even imagine that large ones would make a great burger, in which case you may need to double the soy sauce, sake and sugar. If you can’t find shitake, try portobello or cremini mushrooms instead and simmer until almost all the liquid evaporates. Enjoy!

Note: We buy large bags of dried shitake mushrooms at the Asian market, which are economical as they store for a long time.

Shitake Mushroom Heaven

8 (about 40 g) medium-sized dried shitake mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
1½ teaspoons sugar

  • Rinse then submerge the dried shitake mushrooms in plenty of lukewarm water and leave for eight hours, or until plump.
  • When ready to cook, peel the garlic cloves, and leave whole.
  • Drain the soaked shitake mushrooms and pat dry with a clean towel. Snip away any hard stems.

  • In a frying pan on medium flame, heat up the olive oil and add the garlic cloves. Stir-fry until they turn crisp and golden, about three to four minutes.
  • Without removing the garlic cloves, put the mushrooms into the frying pan and fry for about five minutes, flipping them over periodically.
  • Pour in the soy sauce, sake and sugar. Continue to stir the mushrooms, again flipping them over periodically, until the liquid has almost evaporated and the oil begins to sizzle, about seven minutes.
  • Serve alongside white rice and steamed vegetables, or on a burger bun with sliced tomatoes, onions, pickles, mayonnaise and ketchup.
  • Reserve the fried garlic cloves for other purposes, serve as a snack, or slice and pile onto your burger.

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