I was a vegetarian from early childhood until about six years ago (a long story involving the Sonoma County Fair’s petting zoo and an ill-timed slice of pepperoni pizza). Even today, though I do enjoy meat, the person I share most of my meals with keeps kosher, so it’s just easier to cook predominantly vegetarian and pescetarian meals for both of us.
Throughout my time as a vegetarian, and now, as a someone who still loves vegetarian food, I have been continually frustrated by vegetarian products masquerading as meat. It just seems like an insult to vegetables, which, in my opinion, are perfectly delicious as they are—no meat-ification needed.
Besides, some vegetables can even be naturally meaty—which brings me to Exhibit A: the king oyster mushroom.
Mushrooms have long been a meat “substitute,” especially in hearty dishes such as pasta, or on vegetarian sandwiches, where their chewy texture and deep umami essence satisfies carnivorous cravings without the use of animal products.
On Friday night, to welcome Evan home from a sad but important trip he took, I cooked a special Shabbat dinner of whole-wheat challah, crunchy tofu, kale salad, and thickly cut, slow-roasted slices of king oysters with onions, smoked sea salt, fresh parsley, and olive oil.
“These are so smoky and meaty,” he commented between mouthfuls. “They’re almost like bacon.”
And with that, the foodie floodgates in my brain were opened and, until I could get back into the kitchen to experiment, I could think of nothing other than how to turn the remaining mushrooms in the refrigerator into sweet, smoky, crispy bacon that even my kosher, mostly vegetarian boyfriend could eat.
I am pleased to tell you that I was blissfully successful. With some inspiration and guidance from a Serious Eats recipe by J. Kenji López-Alt I created something I know I will make again and again, whether alongside fried eggs, tucked inside a BLT or grilled cheese, or crumbled atop a Cobb salad.
In the Serious Eats recipe, smaller mushrooms are called for, but one reason the king oysters seemed like an ideal base for this recipe is because of their size. Sliced lengthwise, they nicely resemble a halved slice of real bacon. This also makes them an ideal size for sandwiches.
Extra-virgin olive oil pantry
2 tablespoons brown sugar pantry
½ teaspoon smoked sea salt (if you can’t find this, use regular kosher salt) $3 for 3 ounces
½ teaspoon smoked paprika $1.50 for 1 ounce
1 teaspoon black pepper pantry
2 large (or 3-4 smaller) king oyster mushrooms, sliced into bacon strip-sized slices (about 1/8-inch thick) $0.50
Estimated total cost of ingredients: $5
Heat oven to 325 F.
Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet with the extra-virgin olive oil.
In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, smoked (or regular) salt, smoked paprika, and black pepper. Stir to combine.
Place the sliced mushrooms in a large mixing bowl.
Drizzle with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and toss well to combine.
Add the brown-sugar mixture to the oiled mushrooms and use your hands or a spoon to toss well, ensuring each mushroom slice is well-coated.
Arrange the mushrooms on the oiled baking sheet with space in between each one.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, until the mushrooms turn dark brown.
Flip the mushrooms gently, using a spatula.
Bake for another 15-17 minutes, until very brown.
Let cool for at least 10 minutes (this will also crisp the mushrooms).
Serve immediately. Unused bacon will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Recipe serves 4.