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!
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.
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.