September 29, 2010
Sometimes I just have to write about something that has nothing to do with food.
As many of you already know, I am an eighth grade English teacher by day, a job that I love, love, love, love, love. Right now it’s especially easy to be in love with it because we are in the middle of reading Fahrenheit 451. Originally published in 1953, the book serves for many students as an introduction to “real” literature, their first piece of the canon, a real, adult novel. And it’s so perfect for fourteen-year-olds.
The themes of censorship, corrupt authority, man’s search for happiness, and the impact of a dysfunctional, technology-dependent society ring true for them, leading to fantastic discussions and debates. I’m especially blessed to work with a thoughtful, passionate co-teacher named Ben, with whom I have collaborated, aligning my English curriculum with his history lesson plans. To teach this book at the same time he is discussing the Cold War, Stalin, Eastern Europe, and the nuclear arms race with our students is, for lack of better language, the coolest thing ever.
To throw even more synchronicity into the mix, this week is National Banned Books Week. As our kids have learned, schools and libraries around the country are still removing books from shelves, usually on the objections of a small, fear-mongering minority. They were rather indignant to learn that this kind of thing happens in the world they live in, and surprised to discover that many of the Ten Most-Challenged Books of 2009 are ones they themselves have read.
If you haven’t read Fahrenheit 451, a book about banning books that is often, ironically, banned itself, my students and I would love to recommend it to you. We are having a blast discussing the similarities between Bradbury’s dystopian world and our own, analyzing what seems unchanging about human behavior, and feeling pretty badass for reading a book some people don’t want us to.
This is a take on the marinated-and-fried mushrooms of my childhood, which were always thickly breaded and served with ranch. Not that I would turn my nose up at them now; they’re the kind of nostalgic bar/patio food I have a hard time resisting when in front of me. At the same time, when I tasted this slightly sophisticated version a few weeks ago at The Grove Grill in Memphis , I immediately knew I wanted to try and recreate them. They went like hotcakes last weekend, so I know I’ll be making them again, probably by request (Sonya says it’s one of her new favorites). I think they’d make an elegant starter for a small dinner party.
for the mushrooms:
4-5 portobellos, wiped clean with a damp paper towel
2 cups Panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs
Remove the stems from the mushrooms and discard. Using a grapefruit spoon, scrape out the gills from each mushroom cap. Slice the mushrooms into thick slivers, like fat French fries. The pieces should be very dry.
In a wide bowl, whisk together the eggs with a little water. In a separate bowl, pour in the breadcrumbs. You can add seasoning if you like, but I left mine plain and let the dipping sauce impart flavor.
Heat several inches of canola or other vegetable oil in a deep, sturdy pot. You want medium-high heat until the oil is shimmery; once you start frying, you can adjust if the mushrooms are browning too quickly or too slowly.
Line an oven-safe plate with paper towels and place inside a low oven. Since you will be frying in batches, this way you can ensure all the mushroom pieces are crisp and ready at once. Or, ahem, your spouse & friends can just devour them as you go.
Use the “wet hand, dry hand” method to batter the mushrooms. Working in batches, use your left hand for the egg wash, coating each mushroom piece thoroughly. Then plop a few pieces at a time into the breadcrumbs, using your right hand to press down on all sides and thickly coat each piece.
I recommend you bread all the mushrooms ahead of time, so you can wash your hands and focus on frying. Drop in a single sacrificial mushroom to assess the oil temperature, adjust as necessary, and then fry in batches, turning once, until the mushroom pieces are an even, medium-brown. Drain the mushrooms on paper towels, then tuck into the oven to keep warm.
Serve the mushrooms with dipping sauce. If you plan to serve plain, sprinkle with a bit of sea salt. Either way, they will go quickly!
for the dipping sauce:
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup honey
2 T fresh ginger, minced
1 T rice wine or plum wine vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Leftovers will keep indefinitely in the fridge, and also work for wanton dipping, glazing meatballs, adding to soups, etc.