Mushrooms are one of those foods about which people have strong and often conflicting opinions. On the one hand, some mushroom varieties are amongst the world’s most expensive foods. Usually plants don’t rank on the priciest “luxury” foods, but truffles and morels are exceptions. On the other hand, many people turn up their noses at mushroom recipes, turned off by the idea of eating a fungus. Often the texture stands in their way. They claim that mushrooms are rubbery and spongy.
(Side note: That’s why I’m perplexed when people nickname mushrooms “mushies.” Why would you take one of the worst food descriptors ever and then use it as a title? Has anyone ever used the word “mushy” to positively describe a food?
“Mmm… It’s so mushy. How exceptional.”
If you can think of one, let me know in the comments. Other than mashed potatoes maybe, I’m at a loss.)
But there’s no reason that mushrooms have to be squishy, chewy, or… mushy. I daresay browned mushrooms can be succulent, with flavor that pops you in the mouth, leaving you begging for more.
It all starts with finding fresh, plump mushrooms. (Obviously that means no canned mushrooms. Canned mushrooms are a crime against mushrooms everywhere.) Grocery stores often sell them in cellophane-covered packages or loose, where you can pick your own. Either option is fine. But if the mushrooms are already looking wilty, with spots of browning, or have a stickiness about them, pass them over. They are past their prime.
Obviously there are loads of different mushroom varieties out there. My personal favorite is oyster mushrooms. They are so delicate to the tooth, and when cooked take on an almost fatty quality that I love. However, they are at least double the price of cremini or white button mushrooms. So I put them in the indulgence category. For today’s mushroom recipe, I’m opting for simple and inexpensive. However, if you get a chance, make the recipe with oyster mushrooms at some point. (Just remove the rough bottoms on the oyster mushrooms and don’t bother quartering them.)
Wash with caution
Like Gremlins and the Wicked Witch of the West, many argue that mushrooms shouldn’t come into contact with water. Mushrooms are already loaded with moisture, and people say adding more hurts the texture and browning. They suggest wiping the mushrooms with a towel and calling it a day.
Personally, I just can’t do that. I know what those mushrooms have been sitting in and what’s on that dirt all over their shroom-y bodies. I give each one a quick rinse, wiping it as I go, and then dry them thoroughly with a towel. I haven’t had a problem with them not browning, but do whatever makes you comfortable.
Cook with care
Make sure your pan is hot before adding mushrooms to it. I usually use a medium to medium-high heat. Warm the pan and add oil or non-dairy butter. Wait until the oil is glistening before adding mushrooms to it. Once the oil is warm, add the mushrooms to the pan along with a pinch of salt, and don’t move them too much. To get toasty brown, they need time to get tan against the hot pan. Wait until there’s deep color on one side before using a spatula to toss them.
They say you eat with your eyes first. (Sounds painful.) And there’s nothing quite like beautifully browned mushrooms. Plus, you want the mushrooms to release that aforementioned moisture inside of them, so that you can replace bland liquid with complimentary flavors. The added salt helps the mushrooms to sweat. Allow the mushrooms to soften and release their liquid before adding any liquid to the pan. You’ll see mushroom juices coming off of them, sometimes even making a small pool in the pan. Let that liquid cook off. In total, quartered cremini mushrooms will take about 8 to 10 minutes, depending on their size.
If cooking with garlic…
Who am I kidding? Of course, I’m cooking with garlic. For garlicky mushrooms, I do one of two things.
1. I’ll sauté the garlic in non-dairy butter before putting the mushrooms in the pan, essentially making garlic butter. Then I remove the garlic and set it aside before adding the mushrooms. When the mushrooms have finished cooking, I add the garlic back in. With this method, I don’t have to worry about the garlic burning and turning bitter and crusty while the mushrooms cook under a high heat.
2. I’ll cook the mushrooms in plain oil or non-dairy butter. After the mushrooms are cooked, I’ll add a bit more non-dairy butter to the pan and sauté the raw garlic for a minute or two in that little buttery pool. After the garlic is fragrant, I incorporate it with the mushrooms. For today’s recipe, this is the option I used.
Deglaze & infuse
Finally, once the mushrooms have released the moisture in them and are ready to soak up flavors, add red wine. (In lieu of red wine, this could be a time when you add tamari, white wine, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, or whatever liquid seasoning you want to use to enhance the flavor.) Not too much liquid is required. You don’t want them swimming in liquid. You need just enough to deglaze the pan of any tasty bits sticking to it and to refresh the mushrooms. Add salt to taste. (Non-dairy butter is usually pretty salty, and so adjust accordingly.) Garnish with chives for color and serve.
I served the red wine mushrooms in this post with this easy baked tofu recipe. If you’d like a main dish instead of a side, I used these mushrooms in a similar fashion in my post on garlic butter noodles with red wine mushrooms. Check it out when you’re craving substantive comfort food.