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Boston's Newest Post-Apocalyptic Hit, Alton Brown's 'Cooking with Cordyceps'

By Nate Parker | TV | January 26, 2023 |

By Nate Parker | TV | January 26, 2023 |


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Hello. I’m Alton Brown. Welcome to my latest program for the Boston Quarantine Zone’s top-rated AM station, WBQZ, Cooking with Cordyceps. Ever since I became trapped in the Commonwealth’s cordyceps catastrophe while filming what turned out to be the final Good Eats episode 15 years ago I’ve done my best to help people find food that not only fuels their bodies for another long day of corpse disposal but is so delicious, so satisfying it provides a reason to keep living. The mushroom apocalypse is no reason to give up on good taste.

But low food stores make a varied diet difficult. There are only so many ways we can serve Spam before even it loses its appeal. So I’m here with three exciting new recipes to stimulate appetite and conversation, all based on the humble mushroom. Now, hear me out; it might be challenging to imagine throwing a dinner party centered around the lifeform currently threatening the fragile remnants of our civilization. But fishermen in Florida did it when lionfish began endangering their coastlines, and there’s nothing to say we can’t do the same. So join me, won’t you, as we explore the fungal fecundity found at our feet and occasionally sprouting from our faces, on this pilot episode of Cooking with Cordyceps.

Now, no dinner party, birthday party, or rescue party would be complete without a cocktail or three, and our first recipe reflects the power of potent potables on this post-apocalyptic planet. After all, whether you’re sterilizing wounds, bribing curfew patrols, or unwinding after a supply run, a little liquor goes a long way. Tonight’s drink is a cocktail for the courageous, a draft for the dauntless, and an aperitif for the… awesome. It’s the Shiitake Shooter, a powerful mix of bathtub gin and the liquid leftover from steeping dried shiitake mushrooms. The earliest written record of shiitake cultivation comes from China’s Song dynasty, in 1209. From there, cultivation spread across East Asia and eventually the globe, eventually reaching 25% of the annual mushroom harvest. The shiitake is a delicate mushroom but both dries and rehydrates well, making it optimal for survival packs in the event of Infected outbreaks. Bathtub gin, meanwhile, has been an American staple since the Volstead Act of 1919 and is surprisingly easy to make, but that’s another show. As for the Shiitake Shooter, bring cleanish water to a boil over a hot fire. Add 4 ounces of dried shiitake mushrooms, cover, remove from the heat, and steep for 20 minutes. After soaking, reserve the mushrooms for dinner - removing the stems if they’re attached, as they’re very tough- and allow the mushroom tea to cool. Mix with equal parts bathtub gin, and add 4 drops Angostura bitters or 2 drops turpentine. Serve straight in a shot glass or an empty 12-gauge shotgun shell. Remember: if you don’t go blind, you’re ready to dine.

Along with copious cocktails, every family reunion, funeral, and conspiratorial plotting session to remove our military oppressors calls for what the now-extinct French called hors d’oeuvre, the Americans and Brits call appetizers, and I call a good time. Any opportunity to eat more than the lowest possible calorie count while sustaining human life, am I right? And these deep-fried mushrooms do just that. They’re delicious piping hot or at room temperature, and the fatty salty crunch is a hit with kids. For once you won’t have to force K-rations down Braydyn, Baughbie, and Barqlay’s throats like they’re French kissing a Stalker.

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Those of you who were alive when we still had restaurants are probably most familiar with deep-fried button mushrooms, those little golden-brown balls of deliciousness found on many Italian takeout menus. And button mushrooms are great if you can find them. But I encourage you to be flexible in your shopping and take advantage of whatever your black market produce procurer can provide. Anything from the smallest button to the most prodigious portobello can be breaded and fried, so long as its flesh is firm. Simply cut medium-sized mushrooms in half or thirds, and cut the largest ones into ¼ to ½-inch thick strips. Take any heels of stale bread you have lying around as improvisatory bludgeoning weapons and crush them into crumbs in a clean bowl. If you have it, add salt and black pepper to the crumbs for a little kick. Barter one hour’s manual labor for a fresh egg, and scramble it in an uncracked bowl. Heat about 2” of fat in a cast iron pan over a bed of coals until it rapidly shimmers. Vegetable oil, shortening, or any rendered animal fat will work here. No, I won’t ask where you got it. Working in batches of 6, dredge your mushrooms, whole or sliced, through the egg and then the breadcrumbs. Fry for 3-5 minutes until GBD: golden brown and delicious. Salt them again, and don’t bother wicking away excess oil. What was an artery-clogging concern in the Before Times is now a source of precious calories.

“But Alton,” I hear you ask over shortwave radio, “What about the main course? In these lean times what am I, the plucky post-everything homesteader, supposed to serve my remaining extended family on those rare occasions we venture across the hellscape for a holiday gathering? What available, affordable protein plays properly with spotty sweet potatoes, wilted greens, and rotgut whiskey?” Well, my loquacious listener, what if I told you that even in these dire days there is a source of animal protein that is abundant, self-sustaining, and even humane to harvest? Would you believe that by doing so you’re helping hapless humans stave off our inevitable extinction? Have you figured it out yet? One final clue; it’s a dish that Polynesians called “long pig.” That’s right, it’s human flesh!

Wait, where are you going? Look, I know the taboo against eating people has existed since Og first hit Grog with a heavy rock, but it’s not that unheard of. Long pig was a frontier staple across most of the world. Numerous stranded followers of America’s Manifest Destiny turned to pioneer jerky for sustenance during their western travels. And a few days trapped in the Andes mountains turned a certain Uruguayan rugby team into culinary bad boys. The biggest problem is, of course, the branding. No one wants to eat people meat. But no one wanted to eat Patagonian toothfish either until they renamed it Chilean sea bass. And rapeseed oil was on the verge of cancelation until they dubbed it “canola.” I’m not suggesting you smack your neighbor with a shovel and turn him into a delicious entrée. Not unless he’s recently become one of the Infected. You see, we forgot one crucial detail in the mind-numbing and pants-wetting terror of the past 20 years: cordyceps is edible. It’s horrifying but true. We can eat the fungus that’s eating us. Once a person is Infected, they can’t be saved. If we’re going to kill them and burn their corpses anyway, why not put a few prime cuts over a much lower fire?

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We’re a hardy, free-range species, and therefore tough and chewy. That’s why our best bits are suited for long, slow cooking methods such as stewing, braising, and barbecuing. Hams and thighs can tolerate hours over a fire. For that reason, make sure you harvest your meal before it reaches the Clicker stage, or it will turn as woody as the Shiitake stems we disposed of earlier. Simply cut into manageable chunks along with onions, diced root vegetables, and 1 bay leaf. Toss everything in a Dutch oven and season it liberally. Add just enough stock, homebrew, or water to cover. Cover the pot and cook for 4 to 6 hours over low coals. It’s safe to eat when the meat is fork-tender and the cordyceps-infused stock delivers a delicious umami kick. Finish with a splash of cider vinegar or more turpentine. Move over beef stew and pulled pork; there’s a new game in town.

I hope we’ve inspired you to give this new digestible dynamo an honest opportunity to please your poor deprived palate. Feasting on our fungal adversaries will inject new life into your dull daily diet - especially if you undercook it! Do your starving family a favor, and make long pig a part of your weekly rotation. I’m Alton Brown, and we’ve been Cooking with Cordyceps.

A brief message from WBQZ: We regret to inform listeners that Mr. Brown was infected by a Clicker while foraging beyond the Quarantine Zone’s border shortly after recording this first episode of Cooking with Cordyceps. He died earlier this week and was cremated after a private funeral\barbecue. Cooking with Cordyceps will be replaced next week with shortwave transmissions from Upstate New York’s own Rachel Ray and her new program, 30 Minute Mushrooms. Thank you.