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Mushroom Technique

November 3, 2009

I’m not into baking, mostly because baking is all about recipes.  Sure, I can follow a recipe.  My OCD even helps to make me super-precise, which would seem to be a prerequisite for the task.

But recipes work only for that one dish.  They are static.  Sure, I suppose you could tinker with them.  Still, you are just making variations of that same dish.

I prefer to learn techniques.  Techniques can be applied broadly and used across dishes.  And once you have a handful of techniques down, you can do a lot in the kitchen.

My Italian Goddess of Fussy has a technique for cooking mushrooms that I swear by.  And it works for cultivated or wild mushrooms, whole or sliced.  I love them on top of a creamy polenta.  If you were going to make a mushroom risotto, I’d recommend this approach as well.  Even as a simple side dish, these will shine.

Here is roughly how it goes:

1) Heat fat in a wide heavy-bottomed pan large enough to fit the mushrooms.  A combination of butter and olive oil is great.  You get the good butter flavor plus the higher heat threshold of the oil.

2) Put the mushrooms in the fat over high heat until they absorb all the fat.  Keep stirring them around until they start to stick.

3) Generously salt and pepper the fungus, and watch them start to shed their moisture.  The scientists out there can help explain why this happens.  I knew once upon a time.

4) I then throw a lid on the pan, put the burner on low, and let those babies sweat down.  I’ll just let them sit there while I do other things.  They will wait, but five minutes is sufficient if you are in a rush.

5) Take off the lid, turn the burner back up to high, and boil off the water, letting the mushrooms suck up flavor.  Keep cooking until all the moisture is gone.  This is not a sauce—we want that flavor to get back into the mushrooms.

6) Done.

This is a bit different than the book suggests.  It really just makes it idiot-proof by taking the garlic out of the beginning of the recipe.  You can always toss the mushrooms with a persillade if you are into the garlic thing.  Marcella would probably kick me in my knees for tinkering with this process and moving it from Italy to France.  But they are both food-obsessed Mediterranean countries.  Let’s not split hairs here.

Someone once described these mushrooms as custardy.  They end up with a silky texture, and an intense flavor.  The hardest part of the recipe is preparing the mushrooms to go in the pan.

I mentioned OCD, so I like to run mine under running water, making a vain attempt at getting all the dirt off.  Yes, there are people who will say I am ruining my mushrooms by washing them.  But running a damp cloth over the caps and stems just doesn’t do it for me.

Certainly when you cook them as described above, they do not taste ruined.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2009 12:44 pm

    i’m in agreement w/ you on the baking vs. cooking. baking is a science, i nearly failed chemistry. good thing my mother owns a bakery :D

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    November 3, 2009 2:44 pm

    I use basically the same method for my mushrooms. You can get a shroom brush (I have one) to avoid the washing, which I think soaks them so they cannot absorb the fat as easily as you might like.

  3. November 3, 2009 4:51 pm

    Mushrooms rock, but that’s not what I’m responding to…

    Okay, two months ago I would have nodded in agreement with you about baking, but after 8 weeks of an early morning intro to baking class, I have to tell ya, I have a whole new respect for baking. You’re essentially using a handful of ingredients (flour, fat, sugar, dairy, eggs) to make an endless variety of products. And as someone who has no patience for recipes, I went out of my way to improv basic ratios for pate a choux, short dough, and pie dough with some success.

    I guess I’m just saying, don’t shut down on baking!

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