Earthy, pungent, mushrooms are many chefs’ obsession. Where do we get the best foraged mushrooms?? What time of year do black foot chantrelles come out? I can’t wait for spring, I’ve got a killer morel mushroom dish I’m going to run with favas, asparagus, etc etc.
To this day, my favorite mushroom is the portabella. Many chefs say their favorites are the porcini, or the lobster mushroom, or the black trumpet, or some other extremely expensive rare breed. I love the portabella. Grilled with olive oil and sea salt, they take on a meaty, robust flavor that pairs so well with so many other things. They’re delicious.
Pairing mushrooms: What do mushrooms go with? Sauteed and served with beef in a brandy peppercorn sauce? Absolutely. But what is the key to bringing out their earthy flavor and pairing it properly with foods? My answer: fat. Their earthy flavor is absorbed and complimented best by things that have high fat content. Like mushroom omelets, mushroom risotto, rich demi-glace based sauces (like peppercorn and brandy), chicken and portabella alfredo, and so on. You need to cook them in fat (olive oil, butter). Just like truffles, who are in the same family, mushrooms need a rich host to really shine.
I also think mushrooms can be an intimidating ingredient sometimes. How do you wash them? How do you store them? How do you cook them??
Improperly handled and cooked mushrooms will retract from a dish, not enhance it. Mushrooms, in composition, are mostly water. Underneath their firm dry exterior, they are nothing but water. Exposing that dry fragile exterior to water immediately turns the entire mushroom into a soggy mess.
Same goes for cooking mushrooms. Heaping sliced mushrooms into a cold saute pan will, in the end, leave you with a boiled mess. Why? Because when the mushrooms begin releasing their water, they steam the mushroom on top of it. And so on. They will leach out all their flavor and leave you with rubbery flavorless mushrooms.
To properly cook mushrooms, begin with a very hot pan. Add a neutral oil (such as canola) and slide the mushrooms into the pan so they are no more than single layer in depth and the pan isn’t over crowded. Let them brown, don’t move them around. Flip once. Season after flipping (salt brings out water). Let them drain on paper towel while you are starting your next batch. Or grill them. Both ways work.
This is one of my older recipes, and still a great one.