I start here the same way most of my conversations start, “I was listening to NPR…”
… last year and there was a story about the history of ketchup. The one thing that stuck in my mind was that ketchup was not traditionally made of tomato. In fact, the original ketchup was made by the Chinese and who used fermented fish. This, I would imagine, had a taste more akin to today’s fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce. The NPR segment made mention of mushroom ketchup, a recipe I knew I had to try it.
The Internet was rich with resources and I decided on a variation of a Heston Blumenthal recipe found on the blog Lost Past Remembered. The main difference was that I did not jar the mushroom. Rather, I put the mushroom, liquid, and spices into a pan, brought the mixture up to a boil, and let the whole thing steep for one hour.
The part of the recipe I was most impressed with was the use of the leftover solids. I place the strained solids onto a sheet tray and let it dry out in a 180º oven. Then I ground the dried mushroom and spices into a fine powder. In my opinion, the powder is the best part. UMAMI. In the face. Smelling it is like ripping open a bag of instant ramen powder and snorting it. Straight up MSG, but homemade and all natural. The powder is not water soluble so I found it is best used as a finishing salt.
Results – I was pleasantly surprised. The ketchup has an intense mushroom flavor but is SALTY and should be used sparingly. Understandably, the salt needs to be there to draw the water out of the mushroom and for preservation. However, less salt can probably be used without fear of bacteria growth. Mushroom ketchup can be a close soy sauce substitute for someone with a soy allergy. The powder, which I decided to call natural MSG, is a wonderful thing.
Afterthoughts – one word for the next time I try this recipe: FERMENTATION. It will be done. Oh yes, it will be done.