Alan Tangren: Mushroom secrets
Dear Alan: Do you have any tips for cooking mushrooms? Mine always come out a little slimy.
Alan: Mushrooms can be tricky to cook because of their high water content and spongy texture. Keep in mind a couple of techniques and you should be fine.
Any well-stocked produce department should have several kinds of cultivated mushrooms to choose from at any time of the year.
Most likely you will find white, or button, mushrooms. These are mild in flavor, and have a delicate texture, perfect for slicing raw into salad or adding to soups, stews and sauces. They range in size from less than one inch to several inches in diameter.
You may also see crimini, or brown field mushrooms. These have a medium brown, slightly rough skin. They are stronger in flavor, more earthy and meaty. The texture is firmer than the white. They may also be called Italian or baby bella.
Portobellos are just very large — four to seven inches in diameter — mature crimini mushrooms. The dark “gills’ are exposed. They have a much more concentrated meaty flavor and have become popular as a meat substitute, especially on the grill.
Fresh shiitake mushrooms are often used in Asian cooking. They have a broad, flat cap usually tan to dark brown. The stems are tough and woody, so they are cut off before using.
There are a few general rules to remember when shopping for fresh mushrooms. Look for those that seem fresh and alive and that smell good.
Choose firm, bright mushrooms with little or no dirt, and those that feel heavy for their size. Avoid any with dark, watery spots, or that are soft and squishy.
Check the underside of white or crimini mushrooms and select those that are completely closed, with no gills exposed. Choose portobellos that have brown, rather than black, gills.
Mushrooms need lots of air circulation to keep well. When you get them home, lay them in a single layer in a shallow container lined with a kitchen towel and refrigerate without covering. Use within a day or two.
If the mushrooms show any signs of dirt, give a quick rinse just before using. Then trim off 1/8-inch of the stem and wipe off any clinging dirt with a paper towel. Trim off any darkened or discolored areas with a paring knife.
Small mushrooms may be cooked whole, while you may want to cut larger ones in quarters or slices.
Easy sautéed mushrooms
Don’t crowd mushrooms in the pan when cooking. You want to sauté and not steam. You can use whole or cut up white or crimini mushrooms for sautéing
Place a sauté pan over medium-high heat until the pan is hot. Add enough butter or olive oil to film the bottom of the pan and add the mushrooms.
Use a pan that will accommodate the mushrooms in a single, uncrowded layer. Let them cook for a few moments before you start to stir or flip. Don’t add salt at this point.
The mushrooms will give off some moisture as they start to cook, but maintain the heat and stir frequently until the liquid has evaporated. Then you can lower the heat and add some minced garlic or shallots and season with salt and pepper. Add a little more butter or olive oil and serve.
Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill St. in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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