Crimini mushrooms are light tan to dark brown mushrooms that are about the same size and shape as white button mushrooms. While crimini mushrooms are just as versatile as white button mushrooms, they have a firmer texture and more intense flavor that stands on its own.
Crimini Overview and Substitutes
White button mushrooms are picked when they’re young, but if they’re left to grow a little longer, they turn brown, at which point they’re called crimini, or Italian brown mushrooms. When crimini are allowed to mature, the cap opens, and they develop into portobello mushrooms.
You can substitute white button and portobello mushrooms for crimini. If you prefer mild white mushrooms, but find portobellos too meaty tasting, criminis are an option.
Shiitake mushrooms don’t belong to the same family, but they closely resemble portobello mushrooms in looks and taste, giving you another optional ingredient to use in place of criminis.
Choose the Freshest Crimini
Choose crimini mushrooms that are firm and evenly colored, with a tightly closed cap. Don’t buy any that have dark, shiny, smelly or soft spots because that means they’re starting to decay.
You may notice a thin membrane under the cap. If it looks black or darker brown than the rest of the crimini’s natural color, it means the mushroom is past its prime; don’t buy it, reports the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
Remove the crimini mushrooms from the store packaging. If they are damp, put them in a bowl lined with paper towels just long enough to be sure they’re dry. Any extra moisture will make them spoil more quickly, warns the Mycological Society of San Francisco.
Put them in a porous paper bag -- not a plastic bag or an air-tight container -- and place them in the refrigerator, away from any strong-smelling foods such as onions. Mushrooms are highly absorbent, so they’ll soak up smells as well as moisture.
Criminis may last up to a week in the refrigerator, but it’s best to use them within three days.
Cleaning and Preparation
Don’t clean the mushrooms until you’re ready to use them. For most mushrooms, you only need to wipe off any visible dirt with a damp paper towel or a soft brush.
If necessary, put the mushrooms under running water one at a time; rub gently to remove clinging dirt, then blot them dry with paper towels. For very dirty mushrooms, fill a bowl with cold water and swish the mushrooms around to loosen stubborn dirt. Don't keep them in water long, or they’ll soak up too much moisture. Be sure to dry them on paper towels.
Trim off the end of any stem that looks dry or cracked; then cut the stem and cap into chunks or slices. If you only want to use the crimini caps, grasp the stem near the cap and gently twist to remove the stem.
Cooking Tips for Crimini Mushrooms
Crimini mushrooms can be enjoyed raw, sauteed, broiled, microwaved, roasted or grilled. When you saute, use medium-high heat, and don’t overcrowd the pan, so the moisture can easily evaporate.
Criminis are so versatile and flavorful that you can use them in many dishes. Add them to meatloaf, put them in pasta sauce, stir them into cooked rice or stir-fry them with broccoli and snap peas.
Make stuffed caps by chopping the stems and mixing them with Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and garlic. Put the mixture into the caps and bake until soft.
Make an easy sauce to pour over steaks or chicken. Saute onions with the mushrooms, add garlic and chicken broth, or equal parts of wine and broth; then simmer over medium heat until the fluids reduce by about half.