And this week's inductee into the "Overrated Hall of Fame" is ... the mushroom.
Don't tell me how good they are and that I don't know what I am missing. I have tried mushrooms in their dry form (sickening) and wet form (vomit-inducing). I have tried them stuffed. I have tasted the soup. I have tried them on a steak. I have hated them every time.
The mushroom is a flavorless sliver of slime that should never pass human lips. Yet the masses continue to slather them on what would otherwise be a perfectly good pizza, or they dump them over what would otherwise be a perfectly cooked rib-eye steak, or they sprinkle them on what would otherwise be a perfectly prepared field green salad, ruining an otherwise sublime eating experience with a pile of gray fungus.
Even the mushroom itself tries to warn us of its disgusting-ness with its name. It doesn't pretend to be something else. The tomato is actually a fruit. The peanut is actually a legume. But the mushroom? It is a fungus. Pharmacies sell creams that kill fungus and foot doctors get paid big money to kill fungus, yet people will pay extra money to have a pile of fungus dumped on their entree. It doesn't even have a deceptive name. If the mushroom were called arugula or saffron, I could understand people wanting to eat it and being fooled into thinking it was one of the finer accompaniments to real food. But it has the word "mush" in its name, for chrissakes. When has "mush" ever been associated with anything positive? We use that word when food looks disgusting. "I ain't eatin' that mush!" "Ewwww ... that soup looks like green mush!" Even some dogsled driving eskimo hates the word, as he's usually dodging hunks of frozen huskie shit while he's yelling "Mush!" at his team.
What other food has such a repulsive texture yet still gets eaten? Wet canned mushrooms have the consistency and taste, I'm sure of soaked cardboard. Dry mushrooms, the kind often used to destroy a salad, look and feel like what an overweight moth must look and feel like. As I have no desire to dine on wet cardboard and obese moths, I do not care to have their fungusy versions atop my meat and salad.
Do they really enhance the flavor of any dish? I've tasted mushroom soup, and I like it as a base for certain sauces. But are the mushrooms really necessary? It's really just chemically enhanced cream soup. I guess those slimy chunks you see swimming in the soup could be bits of mushrooms. They could also be slivers of squid or morsels of mucus for all the taste they provide. You can't taste them - you can only feel them, and I don't like what I'm feeling. Take the fanciest entree on the menu at any French restaurant, remove the ubiquitous mushrooms and I'll wager it tastes the same. You bet your ass it will feel better in your mouth.
I'm stunned that the mushroom ever became a food. This had to happen in one of two ways. One, perhaps some Dark Ages hunter got lost in the woods, and as a last resort to fend off starvation he ate a mushroom. And lived. Since it saved his boring-ass Dark Ages life, it was the best damn food he ever tasted, so he kept eating them and other starving bastards followed suit. That's one possibility. Or, maybe some wiseass king's cook decided to have some fun with His Majesty and sold the king on the mushroom being a delicacy fit only for royalty. The king choked down a few with his massive leg o' mutton and, not wanting to seem the tasteless boor, declared the mushroom a delicacy fit only for kings. Of course, the great unwashed then began eating the emperor's new food, if you will, and the rest, as they say, is history. And a gastronomical nightmare.
Finally, nothing proves my point more than the stuffed mushroom, that overpriced appetizer that people order in an attempt to seem urbane and in possession of a sophisticated palate. If the mushroom is so delicious, why are there 237 different ways to stuff them with crab, cheese and anything else that might overpower the taste and texture of our favorite fungus?
The next time you go to order something (read: ruin something) with mushrooms, remember this: It is a fungus. Fungus also grows between the toes of gross people. If you took a look at toe fungus with a powerful microscope, I bet you'd see thousands of little mushrooms. Would you eat those? Well, maybe YOU would, as long as they were stuffed. If you're willing to eat fungus, maybe you can stuff them with some toe jam. Bon appetit. Me, I'm not touching any mushroom, even if it has the most pleasant sounding name, like the morel or the portabella. Those names don't fool me. They all taste like shiitake.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.