I don’t know when I started loving mushrooms. I remember as a kid reviling at their slippery nature and finding them bland. Partly it was how they were cooked and partly I’m pretty sure I just didn’t like them. Then, when I was about ten years old I went to a restaurant called Bill’s in Queen Street, Sydney. I didn’t order the mushrooms, I had the sweetcorn fritters with avocado and bacon which to this day remains one of the truly great breakfasts the world over (and coincidentally the first thing I ever cooked for my wife). However, my dad had sourdough toast with mushrooms and avocado and I had a bite and from there the love affair with mushrooms started. They were meaty yet subtle, tender yet robust and all while being deeply earthy. Now I add them to dishes left right and centre like the recent tahini crusted beef which gets a big umami kick from shiitake mushrooms. Normally I’m in favour of pan roasting them until they’re deeply browned like you would for mushrooms on toast or a good beef stroganoff. However, here I wanted to share a different method for cooking mushrooms, one that’s super easy, very quick and is so versatile that you can use it in dishes as varied as soup, beef wellington, ravioli, pasta sauce, risotto, a dip, mixed into stews or even a crackingly good fried snack with beer. Oh, and it only takes 15 minutes and doesn’t have any ingredients except mushrooms.
If you want to jump straight to the recipe then click here. Otherwise below I’ve covered the reasons behind the technique and a number of different ideas for how to use the mushrooms once they’re cooked, for TimedEating tips and tricks as to how to make ahead, I’ve put them under each individual type of dish.
Perhaps oddly, to explain why this works, I want to start with why mushrooms often don’t taste nice. The enemy is water which makes them taste somewhat bland or makes them soggy. Mushrooms are mainly water and when they’re heated they expel that water at a rate of knots. Unlike meat where the aim of the game is to make sure you don’t drive too much of that water away, with mushrooms it’s the complete opposite – you want to get rid of as much of it as possible. As the water comes out and into the pan it starts to evaporate. Water takes a huge amount of energy to go from liquid to gas and that keeps the surface of the pan at the boiling temperature of 100 degrees which prevents browning. That’s why when you are sautéeing mushrooms, people tell you to not overcrowd the pan and to get the pan really, really hot. However, because you’re applying intense heat to the outside, more water gets lost from the surface than the interior. That places a limit on how much water you can drive out of the mushrooms (and therefore how intense you can make the flavour) without getting a leathery or burnt skin on the outside. However, we’re going to do something different and throw out the rules because we’re not going to really care about browning.Browning gives a certain type of flavour, but we’re in search of intense savouriness from the mushrooms themselves. We’re going to force the water out by blitzing them up first. If we blitz the mushrooms in a food processor until they’re almost liquid and then put them in the pan we’re going to be applying heat evenly to the whole mushroom (or what’s left of it). That means we can drive away the moisture without toughening anything up and we’re left with something that simply tastes more mushroomy than anything else. It has another side benefit which is that you can cook it in large batches because you don’t care about overcrowding the pan at all. Make sure you season generously with salt and pepper and you’ll end up with an intensely savoury, quite thick mushroom paste.
Of course, the sacrifice for this flavour is texture and that texture is a large part of the meatiness some mushrooms provide. If you’re lucky enough to have a bunch of ceps, morels, girolles, my favourite king oyster mushrooms or other speciality mushrooms then please sauté them as you won’t capture the delicacy of their flavour or the wonder of their texture in this method. In fact this method gives a very different product to sautéed mushrooms in general. So what is it good for? Here are a few ideas that work really well with this method:
These ravioli are brilliant served on their own with a little sage beurre noisette and some enoki mushrooms sautéed in butter or they make a great accompaniment to any hearty meat like game or duck breast. You can have them as plain ravioli filled with mushrooms or add to the flavours a bit with lemon zest or, my absolute show-stopping favourite, a ravioli of mushrooms with a soft runny egg yolk in the middle.
How to make: There are lots of recipes for pasta dough out there but this one from SeriousEats.com is my favourite. To make the filling, add a very small amount of double cream to the cooked mushrooms for richness and allow to cool in the fridge. I sometimes add a little lemon zest to give it a fresh zing if I’m serving it with something else very rich. Once the mushrooms are cool you should be able to fill the pasta dough very easily. I like large flying saucer shaped ravioli for this filling but it also works pretty well for tortellini or similar.
TimedEating tips for cooking ahead:
You can make the filling up to a week in advance and fill the ravioli up to 2 days before you need them. Be careful how you store them as the moisture from the filling and any humidity from the air can make the dough sticky and lead to your ravioli tearing. I find best to store them on a single layer dusted with semolina flour (or rice flour if you’ve got it) on top of a wax paper/silicon mat covered in cling film. Make sure it’s a deep tray so the cling film doesn’t touch the ravioli. The longer you store them the more likely you are to find a textural difference between the pasta touching the filling the pasta that doesn’t as one will soften with the moisture and the other will dry out, but the differences will be fairly minimal. If you wish to freeze the ravioli (they freeze very well), then place them in one layer in the freezer for 30 minutes or until the outside is frozen. After they’re frozen you can place them in sandwich bags for better storage. If you try and freeze them directly in a sandwich bag or similar they will stick together and tear when you cook them.
Soups, sauces and purées (or a dip/spread): (Unfortunately no photo yet)
The difference between a mushroom soup that warms your winter cockles, a thick purée served with meat or a rich sauce lathered over steak or pasta is nothing more than the type and quantity of liquid you’ve added. This base can be turned into any one of them and they’re all delicious.
How to make: By adding stock, milk or cream you can turn the savoury base of coarse mushrooms into something silky and rich. I like to use a lighter stock like brown chicken stock as beef stock can be a little overpowering and personally I prefer a stock based soup to a creamy velouté but it’s all a matter of taste. Adding a mixture of milk and cream to the mushrooms until it’s slightly too liquid and then reducing it with some already cooked pasta yields a phenomenally delicious, albeit slightly grey, pasta. Ultimately you’re completely in control of the texture and consistency of the final product by simply controlling what you add – and if you’ve added too much a little heat can reduce it back down. The base of mushrooms is quite coarse, however, so often I find I’ll need to blend it to be really smooth which I do after adding a little of the liquid and then return to the pan and add the rest. It can be difficult to judge how the consistency will change after blending the mushrooms otherwise.
To make a spread you need only add a very small amount of cream to loosen it slightly. It’s delicious spread on toast, particularly with a soft poached egg or some sliced avocado. For more of a dip, it’s somewhere in between a spread and a purée and I like to make it with stock, often adding a little grated cheddar whilst it’s hot and then blending. It’s genuinely delicious.
TimedEating tips for cooking ahead: A stock based soup or sauce will last longer than a dairy based one and I’d happily leave a stock based one a week in the fridge or months in the freezer. Dairy based veloutés or sauces will last a couple of days in the fridge but I find they don’t freeze nearly as well. Remember, however, that they will all thicken when left in the fridge and you may need to add a little more liquid when you reheat them so have a little on hand.
Mushroom bonbons – A great bar snack or side element:
Deep fried mushroom bonbons (balls) are intense and delicious. You can go the full hog and turn them into mushroom croquettes by adding to a bechamel but actually I really like the simple one with just mushrooms. They’re awesome with beer as a snack or they are a great textural accompaniment to a full dish like pork with apple caramel sauce and pavé potatoes! (I only wish you could see them better in the photo I took – it’s right at the back on the left)
How to make: Once you’ve made the base of mushrooms, allow it to cool in the fridge. Then you roll it into balls – pick your favourite size, mine is about the size of a ping pong ball. Panné (breadcrumb) the balls by dipping in flour, then egg and then panko breadcrumbs before frying. The breadcrumbing process is the same as for these scotch eggs or these pork bon bons. Remember to season the flour and the breadcrumbs with salt and pepper.
TimedEating tips for cooking ahead: As with all the other ideas, the base of mushrooms can be made a week in advance. You can breadcrumb them up to a week in advance as well. If you want to fry them ahead then so long as you eat the same day they’ll be fine. Although they won’t go off after a day, the breadcrumbs will soften and you lose the crunch. If you want to fry ahead then leave them to cool outside of the fridge in one layer without sealing them in so the steam escapes rather than softening them. Once cool, you can store outside the fridge until you want to eat them – they’re great for a picnic!
Risotto & Beef Wellington:
For both risotto and Beef Wellington I’ve written about them before. The Beef Wellington recipe uses these mushrooms directly. In this risotto recipe you can substitute in the mushroom purée for the cauliflower purée or butternut squash purée recipes I’ve posted previously. I just wanted to include a link here to show you even more the versatility of this little technique. For the risotto, I like to make the risotto with a mushroom stock and add a little of that mushroom stock to the mushroom base to create a purée which I blend to make it very smooth. Then fold that into the risotto like in the other recipes.
Recipe for the base of cooked mushrooms
Ingredients: (you can make this in whatever quantities you like, as it’s so versatile I make a big batch)
- 1 kg of mushrooms (I like to mix up the mushrooms a little bit but any darker mushrooms like chestnut or portabello work well)
- Remove any parts of the mushrooms that shouldn’t be eaten as some mushrooms have very tough stalks. Tear the mushrooms into chunks and place in the food processor.
- Process until the mushrooms are almost completely liquid, it will take about a minute
- Add to a pan on medium heat, season well with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all the water has been driven away. Depending on the heat of the pan the time it takes will vary but will probably be around 15 minutes