“Have you ever actually eaten a mushroom?” I get asked this all the time. Yes, I have eaten a mushroom. The cause of this is usually someone who feels that they alone have the power to change my mind and cause me to love something that looks and feels like a small, spongy hat. They tell me that they can make me love a mushroom, that they have the recipe that will cause me to shout “Eureka!” and bless them and their mushroom strudel. To that I respond, “Better people than you have tried and failed.” In a battle of wills over mushrooms, I always win.
I was flipping through a Japanese cookbook a few years back, when I came upon an odd-looking creature wrapped in bacon. It looked a bit like a space alien, or maybe an anemone like you would see on the Discovery Channel in a program about the weird and wonderful species living on the bottom of the Marianas Trench. But it was a mushroom. An enokitake mushroom, to be exact. I had never seen anything like it. They were so intriguing. I knew I had to find some immediately.
enokitake get their name from the tree (take) on which they grow, the enoki (hackberry). In Japan, wild enokitake may still be found in markets. These look similar to the cultivated variety, but the caps are a darker color. In the US, wild enokitake are rarely available. The cultivated variety are much more common, with a flavor that matches the wild variety. Enokitake mushrooms are, in fact, very subtle in flavor. While often cooked in Japan, in dishes such as shabu-shabu, they are frequently eaten raw in the US. I have occasionally seen enokitake mushrooms in the supermarket, usually on the top shelf of the produce section, with many other foreign and infrequently-purchased items. They are more easily found in Asian markets. This is where I first was able to find the mushrooms. I bought them, as well as a package of bacon, so I could make obimake enoki. This is a wonderful and unusual dish that is great for parties. The unusual appearance will appeal to your guests, and the ease of preparation will appeal to you. I guarantee that even die-hard mushroom-haters will be impressed!
Enokitake Mushrooms with a Sash
Adapted from The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Japanese Cooking, by Emi Kazuko (Anness Publishing Ltd., 2002)
1lb fresh enokitake mushrooms
6 strips smoked bacon
lemon wedges and ground pepper, to serve
Cut off the root part of each enokitake cluster ¾ inch from the end, making sure that you do not separate the stems. Cut the bacon strips in half lengthwise.
Divid the enokitake into 12 bunches. Wrap one halved strip of bacon around the middle of the enokitake, so you have an equal amout of mushroom showing on either end of the bacon. Tuck any short stems into the bacon . Secure the ends of the bacon with a toothpick. Continue wrapping each bunch with one halved slice of bacon. You should have 12 wrapped bunches when done.
Preheat the broiler to High. Place the enokitake rolls on an oiled wire rack. Broil for 10-12 minutes, turning as needed, until the bacon is crisp and the mushrooms begin to burn.
Remove the enokitake rolls from the rack. Cut each roll in half in the middle of the bacon belt. To serve, arrange the top half of the enokitake bunches standing up, with the lower half lying on the platter. Serve with lemon wedges and ground pepper.
Why is the mushroom the life of the party? Because he's a real fungi!