Mushrooms have many unique characteristics that make them a blast in the kitchen, and a hit at the dinner table. Another added perk is that they’re also more forgiving than most vegetables.
The structural integrity of their cell walls are made up of chitin, which is also found in the shells of crustaceans and insects. The upside to this durable, cellular structure, is that you can cook mushrooms for longer periods of time and they’ll still retain a wonderful, chewy texture…. Meaning they’re hard to overcook ;).
When it comes to preparing mushrooms, many debate the best way to wash mushrooms before cooking them. Some people argue that soaking or submerging mushrooms in water will leach out valuable flavour. As mushrooms are already mostly water, rinsing them quickly right before they’re cooked shouldn’t do much harm. If you’re still worried, you can always just wipe them with a damp cloth instead. As mushrooms are grown in dirt, we recommend always giving them a rinse before proceeding to cook with them.
The Best Ways to Cook Mushrooms: Grill and Saute
Mushrooms contain many forms of amino acids —glutamic acid, for example— and are an incredible source of the savoury flavour known as umami.
As they are packed with nutrients, mushrooms are a great option for vegetarians and vegans alike. To that point, mushrooms are also known for their meaty texture, which is why they are commonly used in lieu of chicken or beef. For instance, king oyster mushrooms, a large, thick variety, are excellent grilled meat substitutes when sliced into planks, lightly oiled, and quickly fired on both sides.
The best way to develop flavour in most mushrooms is to cook them slowly, and in dry heat- this means avoiding water, so oil and a little butter are totally fair game. By doing so, the natural enzymes in the mushrooms go to work while their water content is released, concentrating the sugars and amino acids.
As most varieties of mushrooms taste great when they’re fried, sauteed, grilled, or roasted, a time-honoured method of cooking is to simply fry them in butter with some diced shallots. Quickly deglaze your pan with a splash of white wine and...voila. Not only is it a quick and easy dish to prepare, but it pairs well with most grilled meats.
Another example are thin enoki mushrooms. When pulled apart like string cheese, they can be fried until crisp and make a wonderful garnish on most dishes. Or the spongy, honeycomb-like surface area of morel mushrooms make them amazing for sauce retention. Oyster mushrooms on the other hand, can be pulled apart and grilled in no time flat, endowing them with a wonderful charred flavour and a chewy texture. When it comes to cooking with mushrooms, the sky’s the limit. Pro tip: make sure to save button mushroom stems for stocks or soups if you trim them off. It’s free flavour!
- Larousse Gastronomique
- Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking
- Harold McGee’s Keys to Good Cooking