If you ever come across someone who doesn’t like mushrooms, ask them why – after you pick your jaw off the floor, of course. Let them give you their specific reasons. Chances are, they’ll throw around phrases like – “…tastes like cardboard,” “…feels weird in my mouth,” “…chewy and doesn’t taste like anything” or, the all-time favorite, “…soggy, slimy, and wet, blergh!”.
All these statements are born from people whose first experience with mushrooms was, well – underwhelming, to say the least. And, with good reason. Those are all accurate depictions of what mushrooms that haven’t been cooked properly, taste, and feel like to people who don’t know any better.
If you’ve had the pleasure of sampling exquisitely prepared morels or chanterelles by world-class chefs, then you understand the potential that these little fungi have to be transformed into something truly spectacular. The secret lies in the cooking technique. There’s a method to the madness.
Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about how to cook mushrooms on the stovetop, the right way.
How to Cook Mushrooms – Basic Rules
Using the right cooking technique when making mushrooms on the stovetop could be the difference between getting genuine applause from your guests, or a muffled “Eww” from your toughest critics – your kids.
Droopy soggy mushrooms may get a pass when they’re immersed in a stew or sauce, but that’s not what you want on your ribeye steak or cheeseburger. With that in mind, let’s get into the dos and don’ts of cooking mushrooms.
Understand What It Means to “Sauté”
Regardless of the recipe, all cooked mushrooms have to start their life sautéed. Sauté comes from the French word “Sauter,” which translates to “Jump.” So, you’re essentially cooking food in a small amount of fat over very high heat, while “jumping” it about the skillet or pan, to prevent it from sticking and burning. Sautéing uses dry heat to cook food.
Sweating, on the other hand, uses moist heat over a low flame. This causes water to pool in the pan, which stops the vegetables from caramelizing and turning brown. You might be wondering where we’re going with this.
As it is, mushrooms have high moisture content. From the moment you place them on a hot skillet, they start to release their juices. If you don’t use high heat to get the water to evaporate as fast as it can, you’re essentially sweating them. And that, dear readers, is how you end up with a wet soggy hot mess and less than easy sautéed mushrooms.
The Maillard Reaction
When you sauté them, the moisture they release evaporates at a rapid rate. Dry heat causes something known as the Maillard reaction, which occurs at temperatures above 200°F.
This reaction is what causes mushrooms to caramelize and turn brown and crispy. That’s how they get their umami flavor. So, to reiterate, before you embark on any mushroom recipe, sautéing is the first step towards building flavor, whether you’re making a stir-fry, a soup, or a sauce.
The No-Fail Method (Seriously, It’s Foolproof)
Now that you understand the basic foundation of any stovetop recipe, let’s get into the cooking techniques you need to apply to get the best results every time.
Keep the Mushrooms Dry
As mentioned previously, mushrooms already have high moisture content. While it is understandable that you need to wash them, the best way to do this is to wipe them off with a damp paper towel.
If they’re really dirty – and only if they’re really dirty – you can place them in a colander and quickly run cold water over them. And we mean – quickly. And then wipe them off with a dry paper towel.
Mushrooms are water magnets. The longer they’re wet, the more moisture they absorb. This may cause them to boil in their juices for longer than required when you’re sautéing them. So, as soon as you finish washing them, pat them dry before you cook them.
Cut the Mushrooms Into Equally-Sized Chunks
Cut, slice, or break mushrooms into similar sizes, as you would with any other meat or vegetable ingredient. That way, you ensure that they cook through evenly. The last thing you want is to have a mouthful of mushrooms with some bits chewier than others.
Use Butter and Garlic
Butter and garlic are two ingredients that should never be missing from any mushroom recipe. Always heat a little oil in the skillet before adding the butter and garlic.
Cook the two ingredients until the garlic is fragrant and the butter, foamy. That’s the point when you add the mushrooms. Remember, you need to use medium-high to high heat throughout.
Cook the Mushrooms in Batches
If you have a big batch of mushrooms that’ll likely crowd the pan, cook them in batches. Crowding will cause them to steam, and that prevents the Maillard reaction from happening. And you know what that means. No Maillard equals no browning or caramelization. This, in turn, means no umami flavor or crispiness.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Stir
Yes, you read right – no stirring – for the first five minutes anyway. Once your mushrooms go in, toss them in the butter and garlic to coat them in all that buttery gooeyness.
Then spread them out evenly on the skillet in a single layer, such that each one of them is in contact with the surface of the pan.
Then leave the mushrooms. Don’t touch them. Don’t stir them. Don’t toss them. Let the mushrooms be. This allows them to brown and become crispy around the edges, once all the water they release evaporates.
Wait Until the End of the Cooking Process to Season Your Mushrooms
Adding salt at the beginning of the cooking process will draw out the moisture you’re your mushrooms at an accelerated rate. This causes the mushrooms to boil in their fluids, which in turn prevents them from browning. Boiled mushrooms, anyone…?
So, wait until the very end of the cooking process to season your mushroom dish with salt and pepper and any other seasoning ingredient that you choose.
Transform Your Kitchen Into a Michelin-Starred Restaurant
There you have it! The no-fail method for how to cook mushrooms on a stovetop. Follow the tips detailed in this guide, and you’ll be enjoying five-star restaurant-quality mushrooms right in the comfort of your home.
For a more detailed overview about cooking mushrooms, see our article The Essential Guide to Cooking Mushrooms.
And see our main recipe page for tons of other mushroom recipe ideas.
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