If you’re looking to cut back on your meat intake — or wipe it from your diet completely — mushrooms are a great substitute. Derek Sarno, co-founder of Wicked Healthy, a Boston-based nutrition company, manipulates shrooms to taste, and even feel, like your favorite meaty meals. As the global chef for Whole Foods from 2009 to 2016, Sarno was constantly on the hunt for ways to be creative in the kitchen. “My mission at Whole Foods was to make plant-friendly, healthier meals and really get a lot of the plant-based companies to the forefront,” he says. When he moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2013, strolling through his local farmers’ markets was an eye-opener. “There were so many more mushrooms than I had ever seen,” he says. A few experiments in the kitchen later, and Sarno discovered that the fungus among us are actually the most sustainable, delicious meat replacements Mother Nature can provide.
We were able to sample a few of Sarno’s mushroom creations at Seed Food and Wine Fest in Miami. The texture and taste he was able to create was pretty mind-blowing. He’ll be sharing his secrets in a Wicked Healthy cookbook — but it’s not out until 2018. Luckily, we picked his brain for the three best types of mushrooms to sub in for meat, and what else to pair them with.
The easiest type to find, Sarno likes to make “scallops” with these mushrooms. Cut and discard the bottom of the stems, then slice the stem into one-inch rounds to look like scallops and soak in a brine overnight for flavor (Sarno recommends using a mixture of lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning, and onion powder). When ready to cook, score them, then sear them in a plant-based butter, and add to your favorite soups or pasta dishes.
Hen of the Woods/Maitake
These cluster mushrooms are extremely versatile, according to Sarno, who uses them to emulate both steaks and chicken. For a vegan take on shredded chicken tacos, Sarno first adds a little bit of oil and dry spices (salt, pepper, cumin) to mini clusters before pressing them panini-style in a frying pan. Sarno says the pressing helps to “create a product that is closer to a meat,” condensing the fibers of the mushrooms together to give it a great texture. Make sure to press both sides (he likes to use two cast iron frying pans to press), adding a bit more oil (high heat oils like grapeseed, vegetable, or canola) each time you flip your clusters. Then brush them with a bit of hot sauce (Sarno likes Ninja Squirrel Sriracha) before popping into the oven (set at 375 degrees) for 10-15 minutes. Check out the video below for his homemade asparagus salsa and chocolate chili lentils.
The meatiest of the bunch and potentially the hardest to find. These giant, shaggy-looking mushrooms (hence the name) make for a great plant-based take on burgers, sliders, or steaks. The Lion’s Mane is another variety that Sarno likes to press. Imagine it as a sponge that isn’t fully waterlogged, and press it as mentioned above for the Maitake mushrooms. Season it each time you flip it (a little bit of salt and pepper, or just garlic salt) using high heat oil, and continue to cook and flip until you get the denseness you are looking for. “By pressing it, it’s creating a whole new mouth-feel,” says Sarno. “It’s now a dense, fibrous, juicy steak.” After you press, then you can marinate it or roast it. “Do it correctly, and people are amazed at how real it tastes and feels,” says Sarno. “If you don’t tell them, people don’t know it’s not meat,” adding that he’ll sometimes even inject beet juice into his creations to make his dishes “bleed” like the real thing.