A friend of mine alerted me to the inspired mischief that an English chef was getting up to when I first started writing this blog. She told me Heston Blumenthal of the many-starred Fat Duck restaurant was inspired by ancient cookbooks just like I was and that he was having way too much fun playing with historical recipes.
In his television specials he had a surgeon bind together a mythical cockentrice a-la- Frankenstein, dug up a recipe for frog blancmange, concocted a layered-with-many-flavors "drink me" drink from Alice in Wonderland (turkey, buttered toast and cherry pie were among the layers that you sipped through a glass with a straw at the bottom) and created a whole mad assortment of Willie Wonka inspired culinary pyrotechnics (clear chocolate, lickable wallpaper, duck a l'orange in candy wrappers). This guy LOVES what he does (you can look on YouTube under Heston Blumenthal to see the series).
I liked the idea that he went to original cookbooks and have since learned that no less than my favorite food historian, Ivan Day, has helped him negotiate the ancient recipes. His much lauded London restaurant, Dinner, is the result of this collaboration -- the menu lists the dates of the original dishes going as far back as a 14th century gem from the Forme of Cury (that I wrote about HERE) called rice and flesh.
I was inspired to visit Heston when I got a yen to have mushroom ketchup as another antique entry in my Sauce Series (that began HERE).
Mushroom ketchup has been made for hundreds of years –– you could call it the English version of soy sauce. It's salty, positively exploding with umami and an awesome addition to any meat dish that can also add a wholly vegetarian meaty depth to a vegetable dish as well.
I've seen mushroom ketchup mentioned in recipes for years and always wanted to make it. In looking up mushroom ketchup recipes (my 1846 recipe from The Complete Cook was vague about the ratio of salt to mushrooms and I wanted guidance on that score), the more I searched, the more Heston's name kept showing up.
Photo from Allesandra Brian
At his London restaurant, Dinner, all his beef dishes are served with mushroom ketchup, but when I see the pictures of the mixture I am confused because the sauce I see is thick and glossy and mushroom ketchup is the texture of soy or Worcestershire sauces. Big surprise, Heston played with the texture –– he likes to play with food. Authentic mushroom ketchup has the same texture as soy sauce –– Heston makes mushroom ketchup plus.
Although Heston had a simple 18th century recipe for his base authentic mushroom ketchup, I really fell for a slightly more involved recipe from the 19th century that's full of pepper –– I love pepper. Honestly, it is very little work but a 48 hour soak. Heston's recipe is only an overnight drip. You will get somewhere around 2 cups of mushroom ketchup out of my recipe –– I did not make his version but in the video of the process, it appeared to generate about the same amount. You can store it forever in the fridge and even use the leftover mushrooms from the process to make a great mushroom pepper (after a wee dry in the oven). I'll give you both so you can choose. Do buy the freshest mushrooms that you can. Old mushrooms have lost their liquid and will make for much less ketchup. DO NOT buy sliced mushrooms for the same reason, they will have lost moisture with the cutting. I halved the recipe but it is easily doubled.
Taking my cue from Heston, I deployed my sauce series partner D'Artagnan's magnificent pasture-raised boneless strip sirloin steaks for a perfect medium for my mushroom ketchup. The meat was splendid –– so tender and full of flavor. History tastes great.
Sirloin Steak with Mushroom Ketchup for 2
2 boneless strip sirloin steaks from D'Artagnan
light salt and pepper
1 T olive oil
Heston's Mushroom Ketchup
Salt and pepper the steak. Don't use much salt because the ketchup is salty. Heat a cast-iron skillet till quite hot. Add olive oil to the pan and put the steaks in the pan. Brown each side. The steak will be rare at this point. Cook longer for more doneness. Let rest a few minutes before serving with the mushroom ketchup.
Heston's Mushroom Ketchup Sauce
2 oz red wine
1 oz red wine vinegar
1 small chopped shallot
pinch of cloves and mace ( I think pepper would be good too if you are not using my recipe for the mushroom ketchup base)
1 c mushroom ketchup (use Heston's or the recipe from The Complete Cook - recipes follow)*
2 t cornstarch dissolved in 1 1/2 T cold water
drained, marinated mushrooms (recipe follows)
Reduce by 1/2 (his recipe called for 2/3rds reduction and I thought that was too much) and strain out the shallots - you will have a little over 1/2 a cup. Add the cornstarch mixture to the hot mixture and return to a low heat for a few minutes. Stir till thickened and remove from the heat. Add the marinated mushrooms and serve with the steak. Depending on the amount of marinade the mushrooms have soaked up, you may want to toss a bit of the mushroom marinade into the ketchup to your taste - I liked the little extra sweetness that it added.
* mushroom ketchup is thin, Heston's recipe is a thick sauce made from the ketchup
5 oz red wine vinegar
1/4 c sugar
4 oz mushrooms, sliced
Heat the vinegar and sugar to melt the sugar. Pour over the mushrooms and marinate for 24 hours.
Heston's recipe for Mushroom Ketchup (used as base for the sauce) from an 18th c recipe)
1 3/4 pounds mushrooms, sliced
1 1/3 oz salt
Combine the salt and the mushrooms. Enclose in fabric (old t-shirt maybe?) and twist cloth and hang over a pot for 24 hours. Squeeze tightly to extract as much liquid as possible.
Mushroom Ketchup from The Complete Cook
1 3/4 Pound mushrooms, pulsed a few times in a food processor or roughly chopped immediately before using
2 oz salt in the original recipe or about 3 T (I think 2T might be better -- it's very salty)
1 oz black peppercorns
1/2 oz allspice berries
1 T brandy
Put the mushrooms and salt in a glass or ceramic bowl and blend well. Let them sit for 2 hours and then stir and cover. Leave for 2 days, stirring a few times a day.
Put into a canning jar with the spices and screw the lid on, you should have around a quart.
Put in a stockpot and bring the water to a low boil (I put a wad of foil at the bottom so the glass wouldn't touch the metal) for 2 hours. Strain into another pan using a fine sieve pressing hard on the solids. I finished up the process with a potato masher that got every last bit of juice out of the mushrooms, but putting them in a cloth and squeezing would work well. Reserve the mushroom pieces that remain from the pressing.
At this point Sanderson recommends reducing the ketchup by half. If you are using it for the Blumenthal ketchup skip this step as the ratio of ketchup to his wine/vinegar mix will be off. Do cool the mixture and add the brandy. Put it in a canning jar. You should have 2 cups unreduced and 1 cup reduced. It is quite salty.
Preheat your oven to 200º, Spread the pepper mushroom mixture on the pan, remove the larger allspice berries and dry for 1 hour or until dried out. Put in a spice grinder and grind. Use as a wonderful mushroom flavored pepper in all your dishes.