In chef Mike Isabella's home town, some of the local pizza joints used to make fried mozzarella sticks, fried cauliflower and fried mushrooms. This is his take on deep-fried veggie treats. He likes to use shiitake mushrooms because of their deeper flavor.
Baby shiitakes -- only about an inch in diameter -- can be difficult to find. We had good luck using small shiitakes between 1 and 2 inches across. You'll have more batter than you need to deep-fry 24 mushrooms, so buy extra shiitakes if you want to make this recipe stretch farther (and you'll want to test-fry a few first to check the seasoning).
Make Ahead: The apricot sauce can be made, covered and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance; bring it to room temperature before serving.
Servings: 4 as a small plate
- For the sauce
- 6 dried, pitted apricots
- 3/4 cup orange juice
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon finely diced fresh ginger
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- For the mushrooms
- 6 cups canola oil (or as needed; the quantity will vary depending on the size of your deep-fryer)
- 20 to 24 baby shiitake mushrooms (with caps about 1 inch in diameter)
- For the batter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons soda water/club soda
- 2 tablespoons vodka
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely ground dried shiitake mushrooms (see NOTE)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
For the sauce: Place the apricots in a small bowl, cover them with hot water and allow them to soak for 10 minutes. Drain off the water and chop the apricots into 1/4-inch pieces.
Transfer the pieces to a small saucepan, add the orange juice, sugar, vinegar, ginger and salt, and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes, adjusting the heat so that the mixture is barely bubbling around the edges.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool for 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and blend or process at high speed for 1 to 2 minutes to yield a smooth puree. If making ahead, cover the puree and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
For the mushrooms: Heat the canola oil to 375 degrees in an electric deep fryer. If you don't have an electric fryer, use a large, heavy-bottomed pot and a candy thermometer.
While the oil is heating, remove and discard the mushroom stems and use a damp paper towel to remove any dirt from the mushroom caps. Line a plate with several layers of paper towels.
For the batter: Combine the flour, cornstarch, soda water, vodka and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk together just until a smooth batter forms. Add the ground dried mushrooms and the sugar and stir to combine. If the batter seems a little thick, add soda water until the batter lightly coats the back of a spoon.
When the oil is ready for frying, dredge the mushrooms in the batter. Fry them in small batches for 2 minutes or until they are light brown and crispy. Use a Chinese skimmer or slotted spoon to transfer the mushrooms to the paper towels to drain briefly. Serve immediately, with the apricot sauce on the side.
NOTE: Use a spice grinder or clean coffee bean grinder to grind the dried shiitakes into a powder.
Adapted from "Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian," by Mike Isabella (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2012).
Tested by Jane Touzalin.
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