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The Pitt Cue Co. chefs were wowed by the pickled mushrooms they tried at Momofuku in NYC. So wowed that the only way to take them up a notch was to deep-fry those suckers. They share the recipe for their Crispy Pickled Shiitake in Pitt Cue Co.: The Cookbook, and it is totally worth the effort. First comes the actual pickling, which is easy, if you can stand the waiting. You start with dried shiitakes, rehydrate them for 5 to 6 hours, and simmer them in their soaking liquid with soy sauce, cider vinegar, and sugar spiked with ginger, licorice root, and star anise. Then you have to somehow keep your hand out of the
cookie jar pickle bowl for 3 days as they steep in that rich, salty, sweet, fragrant liquid. (Which, by the way, I didn't. I ate them hot out of the pot and every day after. Delicious. Delicious. Delicious.) The pickles are tremendous as is. The aromatics and soy give them a distinctly Asian feel and can't-put-my-finger-on-it complexity, despite the relative brevity of the ingredient list. Finally, after AT LEAST 3 days (ugh), you toss the mushrooms in flour, dip them in eggs and milk, coat them in panko breadcrumbs, and fry them briefly until deeply golden. And there you have it: crispy, meaty, magical umami-bombs.
Why I picked this recipe: Despite being from the South, I came to fried pickles late in life. And I want more. MORE.
What worked: These are fantastic, whether you make it to the frying or stop at the pickling.
What didn't: The pickle recipe calls for a fairly pricey 7 ounces of dried shiitakes. You use only about 3 dried ounces worth of the pickled mushrooms (14 ounces once rehydrated) in the final recipe, so the choice of how much to make is yours, depending on how many leftover pickles you want. I'm planning on chopping some up and making a relish to add umami intensity to, possibly, everything.
Suggested tweaks: In introducing the recipe, the Pitt Cue crew says to choose the biggest shiitake you can find to avoid stalk-heavy, unpleasant pickles. Mine were small but had plenty of meat left after removing the stalks, and made for perfectly good eating. (For the most part, I did not cut them in half as specified.) They also specify to store them in a sterilized jar. There are way too many pickles for one jar, I'll tell you that; in my experience, the recipe makes nearly twice the 2 pints of pickles they predict. And, honestly, unless you plan on canning them or keeping them for longer than a week or two, any tightly covered container should do. And as for the deep-fryer that they reference, a heavy-bottomed pot with a candy thermometer works fine.