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Lacto-fermented Mushroom ‘Scallops’

LACTO-FERMENTED MUSHROOM ‘SCALLOPS’
PASCAL BAUDAR

A lot of people don’t realise it but foraging or wildcrafting is truly about finding ways to preserve what you’ve collected. Unlike commercial products such as tomatoes, celery, onions, button mushrooms and so on, edible wild plants and mushrooms only appear for a short period of time and, if you don’t know how to preserve food, you’re seriously limiting your ability to save your harvest.

I call myself a culinary alchemist. I love exploring the flavours a new environment can provide. Over the years, I’ve studied traditional food preservation techniques such as alcoholic and lacto-fermentation, making gourmet vinegars, beers, wines and strangely delicious concoctions with what nature provides. I mostly apply these techniques to wild edibles and like re-discovering the flavours our ancestors used to enjoy.

One of my favourite ways to preserve mushrooms is lacto-fermentation. It’s such an easy food preservation method and very safe. Fermenting plants and leafy greens such as cabbage, radish pods, or wild mustards leaves follows a simple procedure.

Add salt to your leafy greens and mix/ churn well. The salt will break down the plant cells and release a lot of juice. The sugar in the juice becomes food for the lacto bacteria already present on the plants and these bacteria will start ‘digesting’ the sugar and excreting lactic acid. Within a few days, with the bacteria multiplying and continuing their work, the whole ferment becomes so acidic that ‘bad’ bacteria which could spoil the food don’t have a chance. It’s somewhat similar to preserving food in vinegar (acetic acid) but in this case we’re using lactic acid.

With mushrooms it’s a little bit different, as some of them don’t have much sugar if any. The trick, if you want to ferment mushrooms, is to add another source of sugar such as maple syrup, regular cane sugar or honey so you can feed your lacto bacteria and get the fermentation going. Wild mushrooms need to be cooked too, especially because some of them, such as morels, can be toxic raw. But for the purpose of fermentation, if you cook your mushrooms, you’re also killing any living microbes or bacteria thus you’ll need to add some lacto bacteria culture or ‘starter’ for the fermentation process to occur.

Here is a fun example and recipe for ‘mushroom scallops’ using the stems of king oyster mushrooms. The end product, after fermentation, becomes slightly sour and with the right spices, you can obtain some interesting “seafood” qualities.

King Oyster ‘Scallops’

Ingredients for a 1 litre jar:

  • 400g steamed King Oyster mushrooms cut to look like “scallops”
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) soy sauce (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (8g)
  • 1 teaspoon (3g) Italian herbs, Herbes de Provence, or your favorite spice blend
  • 2 crushed garlic gloves
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) sauerkraut juice as lacto bacteria starter
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) maple syrup

Process:

  1. King oysters are perfect for this, the stems are quite large and have a nice cylinder shape. I simply remove the top and cut the stems in 3/4 inch (2cm) slices.
  2. To facilitate fermentation and breaking down the tough cells, I like to steam them for 20 minutes and let them cool off.
  3. Personally, I like my shroom-scallops to have local flavours, so while they are steaming I make my own spice blend with local aromatic herbs from my native plant garden (California sagebrush, California bay, wild tarragon, black sage, etc..) but you can also use your favorite herbs blend like Italian herbs or Herbes de Provence.
  4. Now you have steamed the ‘scallops’, they don’t have any live lacto-bacteria, and I’m not sure how much sugar is present in the mushrooms – hence the maple syrup and ‘starter’.
    While some people have done it, I’ve never used probiotic capsules for my ferments. If you don’t have sauerkraut juice, you could try that, but these days you can probably purchase raw unpasteurized sauerkraut at most wholefood stores. Kimchi juice or any other unpasteurized lacto ferment would work too. Place everything into the jar and close the lid.
  5. Three times a day, shake the jar and turn the jar upside down for an hour or so daily. As the content becomes acidic, it will be distributed within the jar.
  6. Burp (open the top to release fermentation gases) as necessary – usually 2 or 3 times daily.
  7. After 10 days, when the initial fermentation is over and there are no more fermentation gases occurring, you can place the jar in the fridge to age.
    There are no rules as to when you can/should eat the content; the longer you age it the more ‘sour’ the content becomes which works well for our ‘scallops’, but I usually use them after a month.
  8. You can cook them like regular scallops in a traditional lemon/garlic sauce – or be creative.

Imagery by Pascal Baudar

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