HOW TO COOK | Mushrooms

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Sautéing mushrooms can be a bit ‘hit and miss’. You need to cook them first to give up their juices, then turn up the heat to concentrate their flavour. Here are a few tips so you can get the best out of wild and farmed mushrooms. Including recipes for garlic mushroom, a mushroom spread you can keep in the fridge and creamed bacon and mushrooms that you can toss through cooked pasta.

– Use half butter and half olive oil – the oil stops the butter burning (though that is now the subject of some debate) and the olive oil adds both richness and flavour.

– Use a large frying pan so that the initial juices that come out of the mushrooms can evaporate intensifying their flavour. Cook them over a medium heat until they render their juices, and when that liquid burns off add any herbs (fresh thyme is especially good) and a large knob of butter and turn up the heat so they colour. This is the time to add crème fraîche, single or double cream or sour cream. Or toss them through pearl barley that you have cooked with finely chopped fried shallot and carrot, chicken stock, white wine and fresh thyme.

– Season the mushrooms well with lots of sea salt and a little freshly ground black pepper – they will be bland without it. (If your mushrooms lack flavour once you’ve cooked them adjusting the salt can make all the difference.) Use smoked or flavoured salt to add another dimension.

– Cut larger mushrooms like Portobello into slices. Cut button mushrooms into slices, halves or quarters. You want to expose the maximum surface of the mushroom to the heat and fat in the pan to colour them and add flavour.

– Leave exotic mushrooms like shitake or oyster mushrooms whole if they are small and halve them if not. They are delicate and shouldn’t be overcooked or they will become rubbery. The quicker you can dry them off in the pan and get them over high heat to finish cooking them, the better.

– Store cooked mushrooms in a covered bowl ready to make pasta with mushroom sauce or garlic mushroom toast (only keep them a day in the fridge, they go a bit soft).

CREAMY BACON AND MUSHROOM RECIPE – Add cooked lardons or cooked strips of bacon to cooked mushrooms, add a few spoons of cream and heat briefly to thicken. Serve over a burger or on a steak or spooned over a slice of toasted sourdough or toss through warm pasta.

Fry the shitake mushrooms (see method above) and add a few tablespoons of single or double cream and a few tablespoons of chicken stock. Add a good splash of dry sherry (or marsala) and heat for another minute to thicken the cream and cook the sherry. Add more stock or cream to taste. Check the seasoning and add salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set the sauce aside while you are cooking the chicken breasts. Cut the chicken breasts into thin slices, season both sides, place them between two sheets of cling film and flatten them with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle. Fry the chicken in a mixture of butter and olive oil for a few minutes until cooked through and golden on both sides. Add the mushroom and cream mixture and heat through for a  minute or two.

Slice chicken breasts through the middle but don’t cut them completely. Stuff with a slice of smoked Scamaroza cheese or drained fresh Mozzarella, close the chicken, drizzle with olive oil, pop in an oiled baking dish and bake at 160C Fan – 180C – 350F – Gas 4 for 25-30 minutes or until the inside is no longer pink and the juices run clear when you pierce it with a knife. Serve with the shitake mushroom and sherry sauce. If you don’t have shitake mushrooms use anything from sliced button mushrooms to sliced Portobello to whole morels.

GARLIC MUSHROOM RECIPE To make garlic mushrooms add a minced clove of garlic to the mushrooms once they are cooked with a knob of butter and fry over high heat for one minute.

MUSHROOM SPREAD: Heat a good knob of butter in a large pan and a spoon of olive oil in a pan. Fry sliced mushrooms (see instructions above), leave to cool, then blitz in a bullet blender with a good pinch of thyme leaves. Add the same quantity of cream cheese as mushrooms (eg 200g of mushrooms needs 200g cream cheese) and blitz again until smooth. Check the seasoning and add more salt and freshly ground black pepper if it needs it. Chill and serve with decent toasted bread. It lasts up to 4 days in the fridge.

STEAK AND MUSHROOM SANDWICH: Fry thinly sliced sirloin steak in a very hot pan (no oil needed, just don’t touch the meat for 2 minutes on the first side) until seared but still rare inside. Set the meat aside to rest. Fry sliced mushrooms in the same pan as above adding more fat if you need it. Cut a baguette in half and butter each piece. Make two baguette sandwiches with the steak, its juices, fried mushrooms and crumbled blue cheese.

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