While casually scrolling through Pinterest one night, I came across a recipe for portobello mushroom bacon. (Which is exactly what it sounds like: slices of mushroom coated in smoky and salty seasonings to imitate the taste of bacon.) Although I'm not strictly tied to a vegetarian or a vegan diet, I do thoroughly enjoy eating vegetables and I'm constantly seeking ways to lower my meat consumption. I perked up in excitement upon discovering mushroom bacon and swore to give it a try. I have come to regret that decision. All of it. This uber-healthy alternative to bacon is a prime example of a Pinterest fail that takes a stab at your heart and your trust in your fellow man.
It's not easy to fake bacon using mushrooms, because smoky mushroom "bacon" is simply not bacon and never will be. After just one bite, there is no denying that the thing is still very much a mushroom. All the seasoning in the world doesn't mask the earthy umami flavor, and the texture is way too rubbery and spongy to trick your brain into thinking you're eating an extra crispy slice of bacon. Coating mushrooms in smoked salt, smoked paprika, and brown sugar and then dehydrating them—in my opinion—will never transform fungi into anything comparable to bacon. If I were vegan and this were my only alternative to bacon, I'd live without it.
You're probably thinking, "Gosh, she's being harsh," or "This lady has no idea how to cook." Fair (and mean!), but I followed the same steps as most food bloggers. Sure there's a margin of error. It's totally possible that I might have used the wrong mushrooms. Many other recipes call for king oysters. Maybe I should have cooked it low and slow, but that would have taken too long. Who in the world has the patience to wait longer than an hour for fake bacon when you could have the real deal in five minutes? The slices shrink and shrivel to a third of their raw size. So, you'll think you're serving three people when you're realistically making "bacon" for one.
My colleague, Maxine Builder, swears she's had some "dank mushroom bacon" at a few New York City restaurants. I won't believe it until I try it. Maybe, it's one of those things that should just be left for the pros. But, if you do attempt making mushroom "bacon" at home—which again, I highly discourage—let me walk you through the process and what went wrong where.
First, set out all your ingredients: portobello mushroom caps, olive oil, brown sugar, smoked salt, and smoked paprika. Everything's looking good.
In a small bowl, mix three tablespoons light brown sugar with ½ tablespoon of smoked paprika and ½ tablespoon smoked salt. It's smooth sailing.
Aaaand, you've arrived at the first problem. For the mushrooms to dehydrate in under an hour, you must slice them extremely thin. I tried both ¼- and ⅛-inch thick slices, which left me with a few cracked pieces and I was forced to toss away potential bacon. That should be a crime, dude.
(Pro tip: If there’s dirt on the caps then swipe them off softly with a napkin or piece of paper towel, or leave it—it won’t kill you. Whatever you do though, do NOT wash the mushroom because it’ll get waterlogged and taste slimy.)
Next, lightly coat each mushroom slice in olive oil and dip into the brown sugar mixture. Here's the next issue with this darn thing. While dunking the 'shrooms into the smoky and salty seasoning, the ones that came out alive during the last process ended up falling apart in my hands. If you can get the mushroom slivers to stay intact, place them in an even layer on a lined baking sheet.
Bake at 300°F for 20 minutes, and then flip. But good luck turning the mushrooms, because if they didn't fall apart before, they will now. Leave them to cook for another 20 minutes. And here's the worst part: Remove the tray from the oven and wallow in self pity once you notice how tiny and shriveled your "bacon" strips have become. They're literally less than two inches long—a few pieces pieces less than one. Yup, the end result no longer consists of "slices." Maybe a more appropriate term would be "bits."
Now, serve and gag. Yup, it tastes vile and took forever and a year to cook. Don’t say I never warned you.