National Mushroom Month: How to wash and properly prepare mushrooms, with recipes

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

I've never understood why people hate mushrooms. We all have our preferences, but mushrooms, with their rich, umami flavor and distinct texture, deserve more love. 

Mushrooms do get a reputation for being slimy, but excess moisture is usually the culprit there. Here's how to stop it.

First, don't wash them. Instead, brush off any visible dirt with a pastry brush. Or don't, really. Many store-bought mushrooms such as cremini, portobello or white button are grown in sanitized peat.

If you're working with big old portobello mushroom caps, go ahead and scrape away the gills. They can harbor bits of grit, sure, but it's more likely they'll turn your food an unappetizing brown.

Worried about bacteria? Cooking should take care of that. I don't believe mushrooms should be eaten raw. Stop putting them in salads. They're not even good like that.

Wild mushrooms, such as chanterelles and oysters, may require a bit more work to remove dirt. They can get a bit gritty with forest detritus, which would be an excellent band name. Just get to work with your pastry brush, add a few extra swipes with paper towels, and all should be well.

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 Next, you're ready to start cooking.

If you're making sauteed chanterelles, criminis or other small mushrooms, cook them in a screaming hot pan and absolutely do not crowd them. You might want to cook in batches. Get your pan nice and hot, add a bit of oil, and then introduce the mushrooms in small quantities, one batch at a time. Brown them well while moving them around, then add a pat of butter, some fresh thyme and salt. Salt comes in at the end because it makes the mushrooms release their water. Continue as needed.

Sauteed mushrooms are perfect as a side or tossed with noodles and butter. You can make a mushroom sauce by deglazing the pan with splashes of wine and chicken stock, and reducing a bit. Remove this from the heat, and stir in butter. Now you have the perfect pan sauce for a steak or pork chops. 

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Mushrooms are also lovely roasted. Just cut them to size or leave them whole, toss them with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, and then roast them at 400 degrees until they're nice and browned, about 15 minutes or so. 

Also, you should steal my portobello mushroom wrap idea. Marinate a portobello cap with a little soy sauce and balsamic vinegar, then saute the whole cap over medium-high heat, add a touch of salt, and cook until it slumps a bit and is cooked through. Then, slice the cap and wrap it up with lettuce, thick heirloom tomato slices, basil leaves and slivered red onions. I like to spread the wrap with feta cheese whipped with a little honey, cream and red pepper flakes. It's the perfect sandwich.

Or, try this hearty, meat-free portobello mushroom stew, which is as filling as the beef stew it mimics. At its base is a rich mushroom stock, fortified with root vegetables.

A mix of cleaned mushrooms

Mushroom stew

Serves: 12 cups

Ingredients

Mushroom stock

6 ounces portobello mushroom stems

1 unpeeled carrot, sliced

1 small leek, cut lengthwise

1 unpeeled small white onion, coarsely chopped

1 rib celery, sliced

1 clove garlic, unpeeled

1 sprig parsley

1/2 bay leaf

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

6 cups water

Soup

6 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces rutabagas, cut into large dice

8 ounces parsnips, cut into large dice

8 ounces carrots, cut into large dice

8 ounces shallots, halved

2 1/2 pounds portobello mushroom caps, quartered

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons red wine

1 (16-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Instructions

To make mushroom stock: In a small stockpot or Dutch oven, combine the mushroom stems, carrot, leek, onion, celery, garlic, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns and thyme. Add the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat low enough to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 1 hour, or until reduced by 1/3 to yield 4 cups.

Set aside 2 cups for the mushroom stew and reserve the rest for another use.

To make the soup: In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the rutabagas, parsnips, carrots and shallots. Cook, stirring frequently, until browned and caramelized, about 12 to 15 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic, rosemary and thyme. Cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the wine, and stir to deglaze the pan. Add the tomatoes and prepared mushroom stock, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 45 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the water and flour. Stir into stew and cook, uncovered, for another 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Serve at once or cool to room temperature and refrigerate.

Braised Rabbit Pappardelle Pasta with Blistered English Peas and Cremini Mushrooms.

Rabbit pappardelle with mushrooms

If you’re unfamiliar with rabbit, you should ask your butcher to cut it up into six pieces for you. However, if you’re ready to try this step yourself, you should separate the two legs and two arms, and slice the body (saddle) into two pieces.

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients

1 rabbit, cut into 6 pieces

1/4 cup all-purpose flour 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

2 large garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup chicken stock

1 rosemary sprig

1 cup cremini mushrooms, stemmed 

1/2 cup freshly shucked English peas

1 (8- to 10-ounce) package fresh pappardelle pasta 

Instructions

In a large bowl, toss the rabbit pieces with the flour, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, brown the rabbit pieces, in batches, until a golden crust forms on all sides. Transfer the browned rabbit to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the butter and, when it melts, the onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 more minutes.

Add the chicken stock and the rosemary sprig, increase the heat back to medium-high, and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Once liquid is gently bubbling, return the rabbit to the pot. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the rabbit is very tender, about 1 hour.

Carefully remove the rabbit from the pot and transfer to a plate. Bring the liquid left in the pot to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer rapidly until the liquid has thickened into a pasta-coating sauce, about 10 minutes. Set aside, covered, to keep warm.

While the braising liquid is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.

Once you’ve got the water on, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the mushrooms and peas and cook, stirring frequently, until the peas are well-blistered and the mushrooms are browned, 5 to 7 minutes. (Some of the peas may jump from the pan; be careful!) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When the braising liquid is reduced, add the rabbit back to the pot, along with the mushrooms and peas. Keep warm over low heat.

Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook just until al dente, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well, and then add to the pot with the rabbit and vegetables. Stir gently to coat everything in the sauce. Serve.

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com