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How to Cook Mushrooms
Welcome back to #shroomify October! Bettina made a gorgeous mushroom ragu that I'm definitely going to try the next time it's cold and dreary. Hanbyul and Sam made “beoseotbokkeumtang” (based on dakbokkeumtang, which is spicy braised chicken, but with beoseot, mushrooms) using button and oyster mushrooms. My Friday recipe is for champignon au vin, an earthy stew of mixed mushrooms braised in wine and stock, based on coq au vin. There also happens to be a great event at Archestratus this Thursday, celebrating the book release of Cooking with Mushrooms, by Andrea Gentl. I’ll be out of town, but otherwise would be there.
In this newsletter, I’m going through a lot of the ways I cook mushrooms. Most types could be cooked using any of these methods, though certain ones, like lion’s mane, require some special steps (see what Jenn has to say here). But button mushrooms*, shiitake, oyster, maitake, enoki, shimeji, king trumpet, piopinno, would all be good. I’m focusing on fresh mushrooms here, but will maybe cover dried mushrooms in a future post. It’s surprisingly easy to fill a whole month’s worth of newsletters with mushroom content.
*Button, cremini, and portobello are the same mushroom, just at different stages of growth.
Keep fresh mushrooms in a paper bag in your fridge. The paper absorbs moisture and lets them breathe, while plastic will make them slimy and can facilitate bacterial growth. They’ll last 5-10 days this way and slowly begin to dry out — as long as they don’t get slimy, they’ll still be good to use even if they’re a little more tough.
Clean & Prep
Whether to wash your mushrooms or not is something that the Internet has a great deal to say about. J Kenji Lopez claims to have definitively proved that rinsing doesn’t cause them to absorb that much water, but my experience is that they don’t cook quite as well, and everywhere I’ve ever worked has had me cleaning mushrooms by rubbing them with a damp paper towel or using a stiff brush to knock off any dirt. I only rinse if they’re visibly dirty and I’m under a serious time crunch. Most cultivated mushrooms from the store are pretty clean.
Once clean, cut off the very tip of the mushroom stem and discard. Most stems are fine to cook along with the rest of the mushroom, although shiitake stems are particularly woody, which may not be a texture you want. Sometimes I still mince them very fine and throw them in, sometimes I tear them lengthwise (which makes nice little bits resembling chicken), and sometimes I add them to a bag in the freezer to save for stock.
Most mushrooms cook pretty fast and it’s hard to overcook them, which is one more reason that mushrooms are better than meat ;). It means you can mix different sizes, like portobello and shimeji, and whenever the big ones are cooked through, the small ones will be good too.
Generally they do well under high heat, as in the methods below. They soak up fat while they cook, which can give added flavor if you use some nice butter or olive oil, but you can also try sautéing them without oil, just a little salt, and let them cook in the liquid that’s drawn out of them.
Speaking of salt, it’s a useful factor to play with when you’re cooking mushrooms. Salt draws the water out of food through osmosis, which is especially relevant to mushrooms since most have a high water content. Usually I want to get my mushrooms browned a bit first, so I let them cook without salt, then add it to the end for flavor and to release a bit of of their juices. Sometimes I want the mushrooms to be as dry as possible, like when caramelizing them for baking (shiitake cookie recipe coming this week!), so I add plenty of salt and keep cooking until all the liquid is gone.
Hot pan, add fat, add mushroom. That’s the recipe I follow 90% of the time I cook mushrooms. You can cook almost any mushrooms this way, and you can keep your beautiful ones like oyster or maitake in nice big pieces to enjoy their texture. I let them brown in oil or butter, then add some salt, pepper, and fresh herbs if I have them, and eat alongside rice/polenta/potatoes/noodles/toast or alone.
Sometimes at the end of sautéing cremini mushrooms, I’ll add some minced garlic, parsley, salt, and truffle oil, then cover the pan for 5-10 minutes, at the end of which the mushrooms will be sitting in a rich kind of broth that’s great spooned over whatever else I’m eating.
Very similar to sautéing, just toss the mushrooms whole or in big pieces with oil and maybe some kind of vinegar, herbs, pepper and a *little* salt, and roast in a hot oven (>400°F) for around 30-45 minutes, until most of the liquid is gone and they’re beginning to get crispy.
The first mushroom I can remember enjoying was a grilled portobello with melted cheese on a ciabatta, in the backyard of a new elementary school friend from Spokane, WA. I think I’ve been chasing that first juicy bite sandwiched between soft chewy bread ever since. Whenever I stay at a place with a grill, at some point during the afternoon I’ll quietly mix together balsamic vinegar, a little soy sauce, and black pepper and leave some portobellos in it to marinate (at room temperature if it’s only an hour, in the fridge if longer). Then I get them on the grill when everyone’s making their burgers and I don’t allow anyone to take them off until they’re completely soft on the inside and crispy on the edges, because a slightly-undercooked portobello would be fine but not glorious. Oysters are also great this way, and cremini if you skewer them.
Friday’s recipe involves sautéing to get some color and then cooking long and slow in stock, with potatoes and carrots, to infuse their flavor into everything. I was going for something sort of like coq au vin or beef stew, but Chinese-style braised mushrooms are another good direction to take your flavors. You can use rehydrated dried mushrooms and braise them in the soaking water along with soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and Shaoxing wine, as in some of these recipes.
One of my favorite ways to cook mushrooms is “en papillote,” or in a sealed parchment packet that allows them to bake and steam at the same time. The steps are pretty simple: Toss the mushrooms (almost any kind) with olive oil, salt and pepper, whatever fresh herbs you like. You can add some minced garlic or shallot if you want, or small pearl onions. Mound them onto parchment paper (1 serving per parcel) and fold to enclose fully. You can staple it shut if you want. Bake at 450°F for about 20 minutes, or until your whole kitchen smells good. The best part is the presentation: bring the parcels out to each person, who gets to tear or cut it open and inhale a breath of mushroom aroma.
Battering and frying mushrooms is a pretty foolproof way to make something even mushroom-haters will want to eat. I’ve made a deep-fried Lion’s Mane sandwich that I’m very happy with. You could use an egg-wash and panko for something bigger/crunchier or a light tempura for smaller mushrooms.
Here’s Dirt Candy’s recipe for a tempura-like batter we used for shimeji mushrooms (makes 1 quart, which is a lot):
100 grams AP flour
50 grams cornstarch
215 grams seltzer
50 grams cold vodka
What I’m Cooking
Champignon au vin (v, gf)
I was thinking about my #shroomify recipe at the beginning of the week, which in New York was as cold and windy-rainy as it can get, so I was drawn to something warm and hearty that I imagined accompanied by candlelight and red wine. I'm not sure if I've ever had or particularly liked coq au vin, since my meat memories and tastes are all those of a kid, but I like the idea of it so I decided to try it with mushrooms. I sauté or roast most of the mushrooms I eat, but I thought it would be nice to braise them in wine and stock for awhile afterward to create a broth that would taste deep and rich and earthy, especially with chunks of soft potatoes (which aren't normally a part of coq au vin).
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