When planning the menu for Fern Bar, I knew I wanted to have fries on the menu, but not just any fries; I wanted fries with a little funk and a little something different, so we decided to ferment our potatoes before frying them. In that same line of thinking, I wanted a dipping sauce that wasn’t ketchup but ticked all the flavor boxes that tomato ketchup brings to the table: salty, sweet, tangy, and umami. So why not mushrooms? Mushrooms—along with tomatoes—are packed with glutamic acid that gives them the “fifth flavor”, also known as umami.
I worked at a modern California smokehouse in San Francisco where smoking food became a staple in my box of tricks. Smoking gives food an added depth of flavor, an almost meatiness that, combined with mushrooms, would make the fries sing. Mmmm…singing fries. That’s how the smoked mushroom ketchup was born, and along with the fries it’s become one of the most popular items on Fern Bar’s menu.
1 lb. white button or crimini mushrooms, rinsed and dried
½ lb. shiitake mushrooms, rinsed, dried, and de-stemmed
¼ cup apple wood or other hard wood chips, soaked in cold water for 20 minutes
2 large shallots, sliced
2 tbl. olive oil
¼ cup aged sherry vinegar
2 tbl. chile vinegar or pepperoncini brine
¼ cup tamari
1 tsp. evaporated cane sugar
6 cloves garlic confit or 6 cloves roasted garlic (recipe here)
Salt to taste
While your woodchips are soaking, clean the mushrooms and separate a quarter of them: These are the mushrooms that will be smoked. Smoking all the mushrooms would be overdoing it; good food is all about balance.
Drain the wood chips. Soaking the wood first helps it burn at a lower temperature, achieving the rich smoke we’re looking for rather than a burnt, acrid flavor. Smoke the mushrooms for 10 minutes in a stovetop smoker or on a home smoker or grill. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for another 10 minutes to absorb the smoke. Add the smoked mushrooms to the reserved mushrooms and toss with shallots and olive oil. Season liberally with salt.
Roast mushrooms in the oven at 400 degree Fahrenheit until the shallots are tender and the mushrooms are golden brown, then cool. Purée mushrooms and remaining ingredients together, then season with salt and slather it over some fried tubers.