How to Cook Mushrooms

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Inexpensive and the most versatile variety of the bunch, white button mushrooms are the Russet potatoes of the fungus world -- few ingredients have a place in as many dishes as these guys. Before putting these or other types of mushrooms on a pizza or in a salad, you should cook them first -- you won't get the true flavor of the mushrooms otherwise. For quality results, buy fresh, firm, blemish-free mushrooms -- it's that simple. If you don't use the mushrooms straight away, store them in a perforated food-storage bag or a paper bag -- mushrooms need to breathe.

Cleaning and Prep

Fresh mushrooms last two to three days in the refrigerator, with opening of the feathery "gills" on the underside of the caps giving the first indications that they're turning. Trimming -- but not rinsing -- the mushrooms as soon as you get them home can extend their shelf life up to 1 week.

Button: Snap the stems off the mushrooms and reserve them for stock or discard them. Scrape out the gills from the caps using a spoon. If you have only a cup or two of mushrooms to clean, rinse them under cool water, using your fingers to help clear away the dirt -- if you have more than a few cups, place them in a sink half-filled with water and clean them by hand. Let the dirt settle, about 1 or 2 minutes, then drain the sink. Lastly, rinse the mushrooms with cool water and dry them in a salad spinner or with paper towels. Let mushrooms air dry for about 1 hour before placing them in a perforated food-storage bag.

Morel: Slice off the tough tips of the stems, exposing the cavity on the inside, just before you cook the morels. Place the morels in a sink half-full of water and scrub them with your fingers, using your fingertips to clear out the crevices. Let the dirt settle and drain the water. Repeat the rinsing process two more times. Dry morels with a paper towel and let them air dry. You can also slice morels to make cleaning easier.

Portobello: Pop off the stems from each portobello and pry out the gills using the tip of a spoon -- they should come away in segments. If cooking the portobellos whole, score the sides of the caps in 1/3-inch segments -- alternatively, slice the caps into 1/4 to 1/4-inch-thick slices. Portobello stems are tender enough to cook.

Oyster: Cut around the main stem and the individual mushrooms will fall away. Rinse them in a bowl of of water or in a sink of water, as these fragile mushrooms, unlike other types, are most appealing when served whole and uncooked.

Shiitake: Gently twist the stems off each shiitake. Score the caps if cooking whole. Rinse the shiitakes and air dry before cooking or storing.

Mushrooms a la Grecque

The French method of cooking a la Grecque, or "in the style of Greece," consists of partially cooking vegetables in a seasoned liquid and letting them cool in in the refrigerator until served cold. Instead of tossing dry, unseasoned, sliced button mushrooms in your salad or on your pizza, prepare them a la Grecque -- they lose their cardboard-like texture but not their toothy bite. You can cook other vegetables, such as sliced onions and fennel, along with the mushrooms, if desired. And you can pickle the mushrooms if you use a vinegar-based cooking liquid.

Combine 1 part each vinegar and olive oil and 2 parts each dry white wine and water in a mixing bowl. Add aromatics, such a bay leaf, black peppercorns and thyme, and season to taste. Add the mushrooms and bring them to a boil. Simmer the mushrooms for a length of time according to size -- 1/4-inch-thick slices need about 1 minute, whereas portabello caps need about 7 minutes. Take the pan off the stove and let the mushrooms cool to room temperature. Transfer the mushrooms to the refrigerator and marinate them for 1 to 2 hours. Dry the mushrooms with paper towels and air dry them before using. To pickle, store the mushrooms in the cooking liquid.

Stuffed and Deep-Fried Mushrooms

Button mushrooms are the only variety you want to stuff or deep-fry -- other varieties lose their textural qualities and taste under the weight of breading and stuffing.

Stuffed Mushrooms: When making stuffing for mushrooms, literally anything goes. Cheese and bacon, crab salad, ham and cheese, and sausage and peppers are just a few of the plethora of stuffings a basic button can handle. One guideline with stuffing: Fully cook any meat or seafood. Pack a little or as much stuffing into the caps as you like, and top them with breadcrumbs, if desired. Spray the breadcrumbs with a scant amount of cooking spray for browning and roast the mushrooms, stuffing-side up, in an oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until browned and the stuffing reaches 165 F, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Deep-Fried Mushrooms: Heat a few inches of vegetable oil in a cast-iron pan over medium heat until it reaches 350 F. Set up a plate of flour, beaten eggs and a dish of breadcrumbs. Dredge each stuffed mushroom in the flour, dip them in the beaten eggs and roll them in breadcrumbs. Fry the mushrooms until golden brown and the stuffing reaches 165 F, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Grilled and Sauted Mushrooms

The saute method is the same for all varieties of mushrooms. Slice the mushrooms into slices 1/4 inch to 1/3 inch thick. Saute the mushrooms in a couple of tablespoons of butter or oil with a pinch of salt over medium heat until browned, about 8 minutes.

Portabello and button mushrooms hold up best to grilling. The a la Grecque method of marinating is perfect for seasoning mushrooms before grilling, too. To grill button mushrooms, skewer them onto wooden skewers -- you can add other vegetables to the skewers, if you like -- and place them on the grill. Grill button mushrooms over direct heat for about 7 minutes.

Grill portabello mushrooms as you would a steak or burger. Place the portabello caps upside down on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn the caps over and cook another 5 minutes.

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