The whole reason this blog exists is that sandwiches don’t get the attention or respect that they deserve. Why not, then, turn my attention to ingredients that don’t get the respect or attention they deserve. I’ve featured a number of mushroom sandwiches on this blog, most of them quite delicious, but in my experience when most people go looking for sandwich ideas, mushrooms aren’t the first thing that come to mind. That’s a pity. I recognize that the above mass of sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but in the event that it doesn’t I’d say you’re missing out.
The above is two of the three layers in a grilled cheese sandwich, which feature what I would refer to as Drunken Mushrooms. The final product:
That’s a layer of extra sharp cheddar cheese on the bottom, the drunken mushrooms, and a layer of toscano cheese with peppercorns. The mushrooms were sauteed with onion until they were fairly well cooked, to which was added a bit of garlic and some rosemary. Finally, about half a bottle of beer was poured on, and the whole thing reduced until there wasn’t any loose liquid. That last bit is important, because soggy mushrooms are likely to ruin a grilled cheese. The bread involved was a dill rye bread, and I have to say that overall this was quite good. The toscano cheese is nutty and brings a nice depth of flavor, while the mushrooms took on an extraordinarily complex flavor from the reduced beer without losing their own, earthy essence. This was tasty, but making a good grilled cheese is a fairly low degree of difficulty, and in any case it’s more cheese sandwich than mushroom sandwich. I like mushroms a good deal, and they deserve more.
That’s a roasted portobello mushroom stuffed with Italian sausage and ricotta cheese, with a layer of red leaf lettuce added into brighten things up a bit. Roasting a portobello is little trouble: Cut a cross-hatch into the bottom, brush a little olive oil on it, put it into a 400 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, flip it and give it another 8-10. Take it out, stuff it with whatever you like, and put it back under the broiler until whatever you’ve got on top is melted or crisp or however it may be to your liking. I used pre-cooked chicken sausage here because I wanted to see how things would come out without going all out, how it might look if this was just something I ended up throwing together. The answer is about what you’d expect: good, but not great.
The portobello is the star of the mushroom sandwich world for a reason, beyond the fact that it stays on the bun much easier than the rest of its fungal brethren, it’s meaty and dense and packs a good deal of the umami flavor that makes mushrooms so good. The scoring and the roasting takes a lot of the moisture out of it, and that’s the key. All in all, I’m a bit disappointed in myself with this one. This could really sing with some pork sausage and some tastier cheese, or some chorizo and potato, or shredded chicken and roasted poblano chilies, or really any number of combinations. Instead I aimed for somewhere in the middle, ended up exactly there, and it was a bit lackluster. Little surprise.
(A note: I sliced the above for the purposes of the photo, but should you try your hand at this one don’t bother. Let the natural bowl of the mushroom work for you, and don’t open yourself to the risk of the whole thing falling apart.)
Back to the smaller crimini mushrooms, this sandwich is something like duxelles on rye. Duxelles is minced onion and mushroom, sauteed with herbs and more butter than is sensible until it’s something like a paste or mash. The incredibly rich, savory end product makes its most notable appearance in beef wellington, and in things like mushroom pithiviers but there’s really no reason it can’t be used to its own end. Here I paired it with red leaf lettuce and red onion, along with a layer of sweet mustard. This was quite tasty, although I would warn you that a light hand with the onion is required.
Ultimately, I’m quite satisfied with two of the sandwiches, and the third could be quite a bit better with a little more effort. That’s a decent outcome, but I know that there are other, greater sandwiches to be had down the road. I can only hope that when I find them I can give mushrooms the treatment they deserve.