After a couple of months of waiting, checking every week, and trying other species in the meantime, I finally got my hands on some pink oyster mushrooms at the local market. Which means I got to see for myself if they truly taste like bacon, because various internet rumors say it is so, further confirmed by the ever-so-kind proprietor of the stand.
Yesssssssss. BACON… albeit a vegan version. I’m clearly not vegan based on the recipes I’ve shared on this blog, but I enjoy expanding my palate and challenging myself with new foods.
When raw, the pink oysters did smell “meaty” rather than the typical earthy of other oyster varieties, but not so much bacon-like. More like ham, if I squinted and made scrunched-up faces at it?
Sources informed me that these flavors would increase with cooking, and so onwards and upwards I went.
This particular experiment focused on preparation of the mushrooms in a similar fashion to bacon and then directly consuming — er, I mean test — the results for flavor.
(By putting them in my face once cooked. In case that wasn’t clear enough.)
Step one, then, meant researching recipes and prep ideas. I opted for an oven bake because I can better control temperature and could spread the mushrooms out more; crowding the mushrooms in a pan, for example, meant the spread of unnecessary gossip and therefore uneven cooking amongst the various groups.
Oh wait, that’s a movie. Oops.
For clarification’s sake — crowding the mushrooms really is a thing that prevents caramelization and even browning. Spreading them on a cookie sheet for the oven seemed the best option, and I could leave it alone to do other things while they baked.
Step two followed with flavor choices, which for me had to include maple. Who doesn’t love maple bacon? Or am I the weirdo? If the latter, I embrace it fully and without shame. More bacon for me.
Partially referencing a recipe, I set the oven temperature to 450 F and lined a cookie sheet with chili-infused olive oil before carefully laying bite-sized pieces of the mushrooms. I didn’t bother cutting them with a knife — they were easy enough to tear apart for use.
Next, I drizzled a layer of the chili-infused oil on the mushrooms themselves, followed by some pure maple syrup. I went for the “no-sugar added” kind because it tastes better in baking, and I wanted to celebrate the mushroom as much as possible, as inspired by Chopped.
Finally, with some fresh cracked pepper and salt over the lot, in went the pan with all my hopes for success.
Not sure what to expect, I set the timer for ten minutes, after which I would remove the pan to flip the mushrooms and return it to bake for another 8-10.
Five minutes passed, and during the tail end of it I began salivating from the increasingly incredible smells emanating from the oven. To my credit, I resisted doing more than peeking inside with the oven light, but things seemed to be progressing rather nicely.
About seven minutes into it, I started to hear… bubbling?
Dashed to the oven, checked again, and saw that the maple syrup had bubbled to an impressive half inch height off the pan. With no idea if this was normal, I opened the oven a bit for a better view (and scent) of the situation.
Aside from a gooey kraken rising ominously from aluminum waves with effervescent tentacles that foreshadowed possible candy-drizzled doom, I noted nothing else amiss and returned to complacently watching anime until the timer buzzed.
The ooze continued to bubble as I removed the sheet to flip the mushrooms. It seemed… more ominous. I had a bad feeling about it but wanted to stay on target, so I shifted as many mushrooms as possible away from the expanding Chthulu-like maple monstrosity.
Sliding the sheet with deliberate slowness back into the oven and setting the timer for a conservative eight minutes as opposed to ten, I dismissed my misgivings as nonsense whilst returning to my show.
My nose first alerted me around the five minute mark.
A distinct wisp of grey smoke from the direction of the stove soon followed.
Flailing off the couch with pinwheeling arms and nearly losing my legs out from under me, I hightailed it the ten feet to the kitchen and dragged out with my oven-mittened hands… well.
Scroll down just a little and see for yourself.
Witness now the travesty. The two continents of creeping maple magma had congealed into blackened igneous stone upon a placid silver sea, leaving the poor stranded fungi wailing for a help that will never arrive… or arrive too late, in my case.
A mycological study of Pompeii, complete with smoke and fire and bodies buried beneath the ashes. Behold the destruction.
Thoughts running through my head at this point:
- Double poop.
- What in the heck happened?
- Not my mushrooms! I just wanted bacony goodness…
- …is that smoke?
- OPEN A WINDOW RIGHT NOW!
Thank the spaghetti monster that on that day high winds blasted through town, because I avoided by the thinnest thread dangling from a ladder to wrestle with my wailing klaxon of a smoke alarm by throwing open every window in the apartment, just in time.
The good news?
The sugar-ruption remained contained on the pan, within the confines of the aluminum foil. No harm done to the pan itself or the oven, thank goodness.
The bad news?
The mushrooms initially appeared beyond help and not salvageable. This bummed me out more than anything, because I had no way of knowing when I could find pink oysters available for purchase again. While not super expensive, I didn’t want to waste a whole batch, even in the name of foodie science.
Clearly the maple syrup. After some continued digging online as the pan cooled off and the smoke dissipated safely, I realized that the bubbling had been a clear warning sign that the syrup was about to burn. However, the mushrooms would take around twenty minutes to cook per the recipe, while the syrup went nuclear around halfway, so my method was doomed from the start.
As it turned out, the pieces that avoided the maple lava flow remained tender and had absorbed just enough of the spices, oil and sugar to develop some super neat flavors. In fact… they tasted like super crispy bacon, but still soft.
Based on what I could safely munch on (only a few pieces, darn it all), I’d consider my hypothesis at least partially proven?
When I try this again — and yes, I absolutely will try it again — I intend to follow the exact same steps, but with one key difference.
Instead of adding the maple syrup at the start as a drizzle over the mushrooms, I will wait until near the end of the full bake time (say, fifteen minutes in, so five minutes before completion) and brush the syrup on the pieces with a spatula.
Five minutes seems like a good window to allow for caramelization rather than burning, and I can keep an eagle eye on the pan during those last few minutes to see if anything shifts sideways again.
Keep an eye out for the next iteration — who knows, maybe I’ll actually be able to put it into a recipe for you at that point?
Don’t burn the syrup!