How to cook mushrooms

How to cook mushrooms

Mushrooms are the fruiting body of a fungus that mostly lives beneath the ground as a complex network of ‘roots’ called mycelium. They come in an array of edible varieties - some cultivated, some wild - and a wide range of shapes and sizes, from the large, flat portobello to the skinny, round-capped enoki found bunched together in clusters. 

What do mushrooms taste like?

The flavour of mushrooms can generally be described as earthy and woodsy. Mushrooms also contain large amounts of glutamate, which means they have a lot of umami, making them a popular ingredient for adding richness and depth of flavour. They are often described as ‘meaty’ - partly for their savoury intensity but also for their texture, which becomes firmer as they cook and release water. However, as useful as mushrooms are as a meat substitute, they should be considered a top shelf ingredient in their own right.  

The most commonly consumed and widely available cultivated mushrooms are button mushrooms, the slightly darker chestnut mushrooms and large portobello mushrooms. This guide focuses on how to cook these more common varieties.

Learn all about the different varieties of mushrooms in our detailed guide - we cover everything from fat, wrinkled morels through to jelly-like wood ear fungus. 

How to clean mushrooms

People often say that mushrooms should never be washed, and while it’s true that they shouldn’t be soaked in water or washed unnecessarily, it’s actually fine to give them a brief rinse. Cultivated mushrooms are unlikely to need washing under water at all (just brush any large pieces of dirt away) but if they do, give them a very brief rinse under cold water, then dry them in a salad spinner. If you don’t have a salad spinner, lay them out on a clean tea towel and gently pat them dry.

How do you store mushrooms?

Store mushrooms in the fridge in a paper bag to keep them at their best. Mushrooms have a high water content, which means they will spoil quickly and become slimy if they’re left at room temperature. Avoid storing mushrooms in plastic, which will make them ‘sweat’ and go off more quickly. Mushrooms will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge if properly stored.

Can you eat mushrooms raw?

While some mushrooms such as button mushrooms can be safely eaten raw, it’s not the most appealing way to consume them. Their flavour is much more concentrated once their water content has been released through cooking, which brings out their umami qualities. Some mushrooms, such as morels, are toxic when raw and must be cooked before eating.

When are mushrooms in season?

Cultivated mushrooms such as button mushrooms, chestnut mushrooms, oyster, shiitake and portobello mushrooms are available all year round. Generally speaking, wild mushrooms come into season in the autumn months once the weather is slightly cooler and wetter. However, morels are an exception to this rule, as they’re in season in spring around the same time as asparagus - handily, the two ingredients work very well together!

How to fry mushrooms

Many people panic when frying mushrooms as their sponge-like quality means they quickly soak up the oil in the pan. Follow our step-by-step guide to frying mushrooms below, for perfect results every time!

Ingredients
1

Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add a generous dash of oil

2

Add the sliced mushrooms and ensure they’re evenly distributed, then allow them to cook, undisturbed, until they begin to release their water. It’s important not to crowd the pan as the mushrooms will steam, so work in two batches if necessary

3

Once most of the water has evaporated, stir the mushrooms and add a knob of butter and a pinch of salt

4

Continue cooking until the mushrooms are evenly golden on both sides

How to roast mushrooms

Mushrooms are wonderful when roasted as they intensify in flavour and take on a firmer texture. Using a two-stage cooking process means the water is removed first, so that the mushrooms don’t stew and steam. To roast button or chestnut mushrooms, arrange them in a baking dish in a single layer and cook for 15 minutes at 200ºC/Gas 6, until the mushrooms have released their liquid. Remove them from the oven and drain off that liquid, then toss them with a good dash of oil (plus any flavours you’d like to use such as herbs and garlic) then return to the oven to roast for a further 10-15 minutes. They should be wrinkled and tender. 

How to BBQ mushrooms

Mushrooms are perfect for BBQ cooking because their high water content means they can withstand high temperatures and direct cooking. While the mushrooms may look dry on the outside, they will remain tender and juicy within. Mushrooms can be marinated before grilling, and they will greedily soak up any flavours you choose. Larger mushrooms can be placed directly onto the grill, while smaller mushrooms are best skewered.

Which flavours work well with mushrooms?

Mushrooms work well with bold flavours such as alliums including garlic and onions; most herbs and spices; eggs and dairy products including cream and cheese; lentils and pulses; and carbohydrates such as pasta, grains and rice. This versatility means that they appear in many classic dishes, such as mushroom risotto, mushroom soup and other hearty crowd-pleasers. 

Mushrooms are also very at home inside pastry, for example in pie fillings such as steak, mushroom and ale, alongside lighter meats such as chicken, and with other seasonal vegetables such as leeks and parsnips. They may also form a smaller but crucial element, for example as a duxelles for a beef Wellington, where they are chopped very finely before being cooked down to an intense paste, which adds an extra layer of richness to a centrepiece recipe.

Mushrooms may also be used as a topping for a quick and intense burst of flavour, for example, bound with a creamy sauce and served on toast for a quick brunch or breakfast dish, or fried and used to top hummus, for a seasonal spin on a classic lunch. Mushrooms are quick to cook, versatile and nutritious - the ultimate fast food! 

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