Ingredients: button mushrooms, mussels, dried shrimp, green bell pepper, scallion, garlic, egg, dry sherry, lemon, heavy cream, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, chili flakes, butter, olive oil, black pepper, salt.
My new favorite ingredient is definitely dried shrimp. I’d seen them listed often in Thai recipes, but always figured that “real” shrimp would cover my bases and taste better anyway. As it turns out, dried shrimp taste very little like fresh shrimp. They are more like beef jerky, or bacon. This is quite a revelation for a pescetarian* such as myself!
To test my bacon analogy, I came up with a riff on Clams Casino — an American classic, and a bacon showcase. Clams on the half shell are topped with tiny slabs of bacon, bell pepper (optional), and bread crumbs, then broiled in an oven and served with lemon slices. When made fresh with good quality ingredients, Clams Casino is pretty close to heaven. I have fond summer memories of helping Mom prepare huge trays of these from clams that we had just scavenged directly from the beach.
Of course, nothing can top memories like those. However, armed with bacony dried shrimp, I figured I could transpose the same flavors onto (much humbler) stuffed mushrooms. They might not look like much, but these mushrooms were the tastiest thing to come out of my kitchen all year! I was ecstatic with the results.
To begin, I removed the stems and gills from the mushrooms. The gills I discarded (they are too strong in flavor, and add an unpleasant inky color); the stems I chopped up and sautéed in olive oil with garlic, chili flakes, green bell pepper, and diced dried shrimp (which I had presoaked for an hour). I splashed a little dry sherry in the pan, then turned off the heat and added some scallions and roughly chopped mussels. I chose not to keep them whole so as to avoid a texture catastrophe if they ended up being too chewy. To bind everything together, I whisked in an egg and some heavy cream, then filled out the mixture with a handful of bread crumbs. Finally, I seasoned my stuffing with parsley, oregano, black pepper, and salt.
Assembly was simple. First I basted the mushroom caps with melted butter, to keep them from becoming gray and wrinkly in the oven. I put a big spoonful of the stuffing mix into each cap, then sprinkled more bread crumbs on top, followed by a tiny drizzle of olive oil.
The stuffed mushrooms came out of the oven 25 minutes later, adorned with crunchy golden brown headwear and smelling garlicky-wonderful. The consistency of the interior was like a soft meatball, tender and bursting with the familiar flavors of bacon, green pepper, and clam. I gave each bite a heavy twist of lemon, which kicked the experience up yet another level.
* — Pescetarians are vegetarians that still eat seafood. The name is kinda stupid so I never use it. Perhaps “vegequarian?”