Roasting Reishi Like Coffee - Bitter is the Next Umami

I'm pretty new to the world of foraging and was crazy excited when I found reishi on a walk with my friend Nick. The brilliant color on a tall, dead pine was a beacon from across the woods. The lacquered beauty of this fungus is really something to behold. You'll understand if you ever come upon one.


So, what's up with this mushroom? This fungi is not typically for eating. Pretty tough and bitter. From the little I've read, it's used in Asian medicine for detoxification and boosting immune response. I'd love to know more, so please reach out to share knowledge and resources on the subject. 


Based on a multitude of suggestions from friends on Instagram, dehydration to create a powder for extraction is the first step. Many of these cool cats also pushed sweet applications that sounded delicious. As the slices of reishi were drying, I noted a malty scent on top of the earthy mushroom that sealed the deal. 


One suggestion that really spoke to me was Jeremy's suggestion to roast the mushroom after dehydrating it. Hmm... YES! Roasting is a wonderful way to transform a nice flavor into something seriously complex and downright brilliant. So how do we get there without too much fuss? The answer is a hot air popcorn popper. 


For beginner coffee roasters just getting into the game, there's a method of using a hot air popcorn popper to make small batches. It's quite simple and has the best even heating for the price. Having done this for years, I figured cut up chunks of reishi would work just as well. 


And so it did. The picture above shows the first trial run and the browning consistency is pretty good. Just a matter of dialing it in. The aroma during the roast was killer. I can't wait to get the rest done for infusing. It just so happens I have a mildly smoked dulce de leche hanging around. 

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.


Shio Koji Paste Accelerated Bresaola

After multiple successful executions of growing koji-kin on charcuterie to accelerate the drying process, I needed to know how well prepared koji would work. 


Sliced Curry Koji Paste Cured Beef Heart
Months ago, Chef Andrew McLeod got in contact with me to find out more about using aspergillus oryzae to accelerate the dry aging process. He asked me specifically why I was growing the spores in rice flour on the meat instead of just rubbing prepared koji on the surface. Honestly, I didn't know the answer. This question lingered in my head for a while, so I decided to give it a shot. 


Curry Koji Cured Beef Heart
Prepared koji is a medium that is already packed with proteases, enzymes that break proteins down into amino acids. So if you're focused on depth of flavor, it only makes sense to introduce as much as possible.


Salt Cured Eye Round Ready for Koji Paste Application
For a charcuterie application, a paste that would adhere to the meat's surface made the most sense. I went ahead and processed Jasmine rice koji with curry powder and 3% salt. Since the bresaola I planned to use was already salt cured, I only needed to add just enough salt to keep the rub safe.



Every surface of the Wagyu eye round of beef was coated with approximately a 1/8" layer of koji.



To contain and keep the paste in contact, wrap the coated bresaola in a few layers of cheese cloth.



One end of butcher's twine from the tied bresaola was brought through the cheese cloth to hang the meat. If you try to hang the meat by the cheese cloth, it will undesirably slump. 


Curry Koji Accelerated Bresaola
After 12 days of drying, the bresaola met the recommended weight loss requirement. This was 9 days ahead of the expected. When I cut into the meat, it was moist all the way through. The consistency of the center is similar to a prosciutto. The darker ring you see in the picture is closer to what you'd find in the center of a traditional bresaola. Also the koji coating was still moist and not dried out. The curry in the koji didn't penetrate very far, but offered a nice compliment to the depth of the beef flavor.

Let's talk a little about the other big advantage of the accelerated drying situation. Since the charcuterie is curing for a shorter period of time, that means the environment required is a lot less strict. For the most part, you don't need a curing chamber. "Cave" conditions with low humidity works well. A true game changer!

At the end of the day, this is another way to leverage the power of koji enzymes to yield a delicious piece of charcuterie. It is definitely easier to execute than the growing aspergillus on the surface method. I'm guessing that the softer texture may go hand in hand with the process. I'm not sure because I've only done this once. If you happen to have more experience, please reach out and share what you've learned.

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing. 

Miso Mason Jar Pressure Containment, Screw the Weights

Figuring out how to weigh down the tops of small batches of miso is a bit of a pain. Of course, a compacted medium is best for the fermentation process. Here's a straightforward method for accomplishing the compression with a standard wide mouth Mason jar and lids. 



Compact the miso as you would normally to get as much air out as possible. Fill until the compressed paste line is as seen above. Check the level by placing a regular sized lid that just fits inside the wide mouth jar with the lid against the miso and ring on the top. The ring must be above the top of the glass to create the surface pressure.



Bag the lid and ring to prevent rusting from the salty environment. Make sure the lid is still outside of the ring. If you use a plastic top, you can skip this step.



Put two layers of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar with at least one inch of excess all around.



Compress the bagged lid into the jar to force the plastic wrap to squeeze around the jar lid and ring.



Gather all of the plastic and bring it into the center of the lid ring then put the wide mouth lid over it. Push the lid down onto the jar as you tighten the ring until it just engages and compresses the miso. If you can't engage the ring, you will probably need to remove a small amount of the paste.



When you're done, the top must not be sealed. There has to be a gap for the future carbon dioxide created to escape or the vessel will pressurize and potentially explode. Also, don't forget that the tamari (liquid) will start coming out of the jar as it ferments so make sure to account for that.

Coming up with a simple solution with readily available parts that don't need modification is pretty great. Sometimes the answer is this easy.

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.

Shio Koji Burger, Umami Magic

I recently met with my friends, Alex and Aki, of Ideas in Food to share knowledge on the subject of koji. We had a conversation a couple years ago on the potential for an idea exchange, which lead us down this tasty rabbit hole together.

Shio Koji Cheese Burger Pizza

This all started a while back when I brought over some homemade koji and miso for a tasting. They appreciated the flavors coaxed from the combinations I shared. However, Alex's biggest hang up with everything that's made with koji is the overpowering characteristic flavor. To my understanding, a key concept of Ideas in Food is to make food better than itself. So what does that mean? For example, a steak should taste like the most delicious beefy steak you've ever had, not a miso steak. Not an easy feat.


Jasmine Rice Shio Koji
We were sitting in the kitchen milling over potential experiments then Alex broke out his brown rice & barley shio koji. I also happened to have a Jasmine rice version on hand. It only made sense to see if we could leverage the umami magic while pushing the "soy sauce" flavor into the background.

Shio koji is a Japanese meat marinade powered by enzymes to break down proteins into delicious amino acids, umami. It consists of a slurry of rice/grain koji, water and salt that has fermented for a week or two. The cool thing about applying shio koji to meat is that it produces flavor depth that by default matches the base product.


Just Formed Burgers: Brine, Barley, Jasmine and Brown Rice Shio Koji
We gave some thought to what would dial back the koji flavor and still produce enough depth. The straightforward answer was to use as little as possible. Considering that, optimizing the effectiveness of the marinade was important. Surface area contact is a driving factor, so it only made sense to use ground meat. Hence, the umami burger experiment...


Burgers Post Overnight Marinate
We started by tasting the three marinades (barley, brown & Jasmine rice), which all had unique flavors ranging from the former as the most complex to the latter as sugar forward. We used a 10:1 ground chuck to shio koji ratio and mixed it together. For our control, we used a brine to match the 1% salt content of the other burgers.


Brine Burger in the Back, Jasmine Shio Koji in the Front
Upon grilling, there was an obvious indication of which burgers had the shio koji treatment. Clear charred markings as a result of the caramelization of sugars from the grains. 


Shio Koji Burgers Ready for Tasting
Finally, after all that effort, we tasted the results. It worked pretty well for our first try. The umami level was pushing the limits in all of the shio koji burgers. Also, we could taste a transformation of the base koji grain flavors married with the meat. The Jasmine sweetness was the least favorite. To my palate, the brown rice had nutty notes and barley tasted mushroomy.

At the end of the day, this concept has shown great promise and it won't take many more iterations to make the burger of your dreams.

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.

Kojify All the Meats, Old is New Again

Curing meat with koji was on my list of for a long time. I first learned about this technique when I watched my friend Jeremy Umansky's TED Talk. It involves growing aspergillus oryzae (AKA koji-kin) directly on the surface of meats. The enzymes that are produced accelerate aging and dry curing to complete in much less time than traditional methods. A truly brilliant application that was literally unbelievable.

Mini Koji Cured Coppa
For our first crack at charcuterie, my friend Nicco Muratore had a coppa that just finished salt curing. He was happy to hand it over for the trial run. I followed Jeremy's method and it finished drying in 14 days. Truly amazing! To Nicco's palate, he didn't even really taste koji influence. I'd say that's a win.

If you're interested in trying to koji cure with a whole muscle cut, below is the basic step by step roll through. This assumes that you have already successfully made rice/grain koji. If not, I strongly recommend making rice koji first as a learning building block as to prevent ruining a nice piece of meat.

Whole Muscle Cut Koji Curing Method

Post traditional salt curing, rinse and pat dry your meat as you would prior to hanging.

Jon Broida of Japanese Knife Imports Rice Flour Coating a Ribeye
Set up a coating station that consists of two plates or bowls and a resting rack that will comfortably hold the size of the meat you are working with. The first plate/bowl will be for sprinkling a light coating of rice flour cut koji spores, what's normally used for koji making, onto the entire exterior of the meat. The amount you apply is as if you were seasoning the meat. You do not need very much so use it sparingly. The second plate/bowl is to coat and pack the meat with rice flour. The rice flour is food for the koji-kin to flourish. 


Koji-Kin and Rice Flour Coated Five Spice Guanciale
Once you have completely covered every surface with koji spores and rice flour, place the coated meat on the wire resting rack in a container that will fit in your incubator. 


Plastic Wrap & Kitchen Towel Cover (Photo by Andy Doubrava of Rustic Canyon)
In most cases, you will need to suspend a cover over the meat so condensation does not drip onto it. If you're using a cooler incubator setup, a simple solution is to plastic wrap around your container with a kitchen towel on top. Remember to leave openings on the sides to allow for the humidity to flow through.


Koji Bloom on "Koppa" (Photo by Jeremy Fox of Rustic Canyon)
Allow your charcuterie to incubate at between 80 to 90 F (27 to 32 C) at high humidity for 48 hours. I understand that these conditions may make you nervous, but keep in mind that the meat already has the advantage of having been salted. On top of that, aspergillus oryzae has an amazing ability to inhibit undesirable microbe growth once it takes hold. 


Koji Coated Five Spice Guanciale in Cheese Cloth
Once the meat has a snowy layer of mold bloom, wrap it in a couple layers of cheese cloth and hang it as you would under the conditions specified by the traditional method. Allow it to dry to the weight or other indications as specified in the recipe. Keep in mind that it may end up being half the time thanks to the crazy enzymes! 


Koji Cured Five Spice Guanciale
At the end of the day, I'm not claiming that koji accelerated curing yields the same product as the traditional method. It's just different and too freaking delicious to pass up. Get at it!

Before you get started, please watch what inspired me to head down this delicious rabbit hole. Jeremy Umansky's information packed lecture on koji aging and curing meat!

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.