Saturday, 23 of September of 2017

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Nonfiction Monday: Panini Portabella

I remember years ago seeing an Iron Chef battle with “jumbo mushrooms” as the key ingredient (I don’t know what kind of mushrooms they were, but they looked like portabellas). One of the Iron Chef’s dishes was a burger served in a pair of mushrooms, rather than a bun.

You heard me. Take a look (The Iron Chef’s dishes start at 6:13, and the mushroom burger starts at 6:25).

Since then I’ve always wanted to try something similar, and now I finally have. Nonfiction Mondays is proud to present: Panini Portabella!

Allez Cuisine!

Panini Portabella


  • Panini press
  • (You can substitute a skillet over medium heat and a foil-wrapped brick that’s been heated in a 400 degree oven for half an hour, if you’ve got heavy enough gloves to safely handle it.)


  • Portabella caps, preferably in pairs of similar size
  • Kosher salt
  • Olive oil
  • Sliced ham
  • Roast pork tenderloin, cut into medallions
  • Sliced Swiss cheese
  • Dill pickle slices or chips
  • Yellow mustard


At least a few hours ahead of cook time, sprinkle the undersides of your mushroom caps with kosher salt and drizzle them with a very small amount of olive oil. Let these sit in the refrigerator until it’s time to cook.

At cook time, heat your press and arrange your ingredients for a smooth work flow. Some of you may have identified the panini filling here as a standard Cubano, which is not really a panini (the Cubano is usually pressed on a flat sandwich press, rather than a ridged panini press–those of you using the skillet/brick combo for this dish are striking a blow for authenticity). I started with Cubano fillings because the Cubano is a known quantity and I was curious to see how much the mushrooms changed it.

Assemble your sandwiches, with an eye to architechture. (I did mustard->pickles->ham->pork->cheese.) Assembled sandwiches go into the press for at least three minutes, longer if they’re not browned yet. You don’t need to char them, but a little browning will vastly improve the flavor and texture of the final device.

A note of caution: the heat and pressure will liberate a lot of water from these mushrooms, so this step is apt to get messy. If your press has a nifty little drain spout in one corner of its lower plate (like mine), make sure you don’t lose the little drip-catcher that’s supposed to go under it (like I did).

When your paninis look done (firm, browned surface, gooey melty cheese) remove them from the heat and let them sit, preferably on a draining rig of some kind (a cooling rack or small grill over paper towels, for instance) for a few minutes to let everything inside come to equilibrium. After that, dig in.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think the Cubano filling was well served by this substitution. The mushroom kind of overwhelmed it. Next time I’ll definitely try something a lot stronger for a counterpoint. Bleu cheese, bacon, and pickled pork spring to mind, although probably not all on the same sandwich. Oh, and be careful with condiment control–things which drip out of the gills of a mushroom tend to pick up a color change, if you know what I mean. Nothing that affects the flavor, but it doesn’t look good.

You can basically go nuts with this method, though, so long as your fillings are either cooked or edible raw (the panini process isn’t sufficient to cook fillings, aside from melting cheese), and they can play well enough together structurally to keep the sandwich from sliding apart before the press can do its work.

Here are some pictures I took of my first Panini Portabella experiment. I didn’t plan ahead, so I had to use my cameraphone. The quality is poor, but you can get a sense of the experience.

Panini Portabella 1
Panini Portabella 2
Panini Portabella 3
Panini Portabella 4

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Nonfiction Monday: Pork Fajitas

I don’t know why, but I never really considered pork as a fajita meat until recently (something about being engaged to a person who really likes pork). Cooking with pork’s always been a challenge for me. See, I get in trouble when I eat overcooked meat–it has a tendency to get stuck on the way to my stomach (and let’s not discuss that further), and everybody knows pork has to be cooked to well done or you’ll get the eeeevil trichinosis! (dramatic music)

Except, well, no.

Still, pink in pork is scary to most Americans and it’s not good presentation to open your meal with a lecture on why your diners are wrong and dumb. So I try to cook pork until it looks safe, which means it’s overdone and causes me trouble unless I’m very careful with it. Care like I took in the preparation of this fajita recipe, which came out tender and flavorful.

Pork Fajita #1


  • One large skillet with a tight-fitting lid
  • One large skillet, lid optional


  • One bell pepper (color of your choice, but I like yellow)
  • One half of a large onion
  • Two pork chops or pork steaks
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • salt, pepper, chili powder, ground cumin, chili oil, dried parsley


Thaw pork, cut into strips. Rub with salt, pepper, chili powder, and ground cumin. (I’m not going to give you specific amounts for the seasonings because there are too many variables, but I will say I usually have about equal parts of these things, and the pork winds up looking noticeably darker but not yet saturated.) Lay these out with as little intra-pork contact as possible, cover and let them rest in the fridge for at least an hour (more if you can swing it–up to about a day).

French the onion and bell pepper (i.e. cut them into thin, uniform strips–a mandolin is great for this if you have one, otherwise it’s time to work on your knife skills). Peel and crush the garlic (I use the flat side of a chef’s knife on a cutting board, but please don’t slice off your hand doing this). Put the onions and peppers in the lidded skillet over medium heat with 2tbsp chili oil and 1tsp salt. After about a minute or when the onions are visibly softening, add the garlic along with 1tsp chili powder, 1tbsp ground cumin and 1tbsp dried parsley. Cover this and leave it on medium heat until the lid starts to rattle. When that happens turn the heat to low (or on an electric range just turn it off–the residual heat in the burner will do what needs doing) and leave covered.

Put a little chili oil, just enough to skim the bottom, in the other skillet and heat it to medium-high. When it’s hot add the pork strips and sear them for about two minutes. This will not cook them through, you’re just adding texture and flavor.

Add the par-seared pork strips to the veggie skillet and bring it back to medium heat. Cover and wait for the lid to rattle again. When it does, lower the heat as before and wait five minutes. Check the pork’s temperature then and every five minutes after that until it’s where you want it. Serve with warm tortillas.


As always, remember that the science in cooking is all in the technique, not the ingredients, so feel free to change up the proportions of any of the software in this recipe, or substitute other similar flavors. Want veggie fajitas? Use slices of portabello mushrooms instead of pork. Want less heat? Use olive oil or safflower oil instead of chili oil. More garlic, less onion, cilantro instead of parsley, whatever you want, just have fun with it.

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