Mushrooms are usually relegated to playing the sidekick in the dinner plate universe, where meat often gets the juiciest roles.
But, as many a vegetarian probably already knows, mushrooms’ meaty texture actually make them worth considering as the main component of a meal.
“Mushrooms can be combined, with tasty effect, with herbs, spicy peppers, ginger, garlic and lemon juice, which makes the entire meal easy to digest,” says Michael Schlaipfer, owner of a restaurant in Germany called Michael’s Leitenberg.
“But don’t add herbs or spices until the end,” advises Franz Schmaus of the Association of German Mushroom Growers. Otherwise the mushrooms will become dry and lose all of their tasty flavours and nutrients.
Mushrooms, when properly prepared, can be easily as tasty as meat, Schlaipfer believes. When cooked, the glutamate that mushrooms naturally contain gives them a delicious roasted flavour that resembles cooked meat. And depending on how they are prepared, some can have bitter notes or lemony flavours too.
“It would be a pity to throw them all into a pot and then add bacon and onions,” says Daniel Schmidthaler of Jeunes Restaurateurs Germany. When he wants to use several different types, he cooks each separately. His tip? Zest a lemon over the mushrooms right at the end of cooking to really highlight their unique flavour.
Schmidthaler uses mushrooms in lots of dishes. “Based on each one’s sturdiness and composition, you can fry, grill, ferment or steam them,” he says. Sturdier varieties, like white button mushrooms, can take more heat, while types like shiitake should be steamed.
Schmidthaler marinates oyster mushrooms, tearing the gills apart and then salting and sugaring them before drying them out. “That way, they retain their meaty consistency and make a great seasoning.”
The most important thing to remember when working with mushrooms is not to wash them or let them sit in water. Otherwise, they will suck it all up. “It’s better to use a brush to wipe off any dirt,” says Schlaipfer.
To clean a large batch of chanterelles, for example, Schmidthaler recommends tossing them in flour: “Then quickly wash them in lukewarm water, so that the mushrooms don’t absorb too much water and the dirt remains stuck to the sticky flour instead.”
Schlaipfer recommends removing the gills from large mushrooms: “They make the dish slimy.” Schmidthaler, meanwhile, recommends not cutting up mushrooms too small in order to better retain their flavours and composition. Porcini can be halved; chanterelles should stay whole.
Because mushrooms contain a lot of protein, they go bad quickly. The best place to store them is somewhere cold and clean. Take them out only shortly before you’re ready to use them.
Schlapifer recommends using a fat suitable for high-heat cooking to saute mushrooms. “It’s best to use coconut oil or clarified butter,” says Schmaus.
It’s best to make sure you completely heat the pan – which should be as big as possible – before adding the mushrooms. Many people mistakenly let mushrooms cook for too long, says Schmaus – they should be done in five minutes tops. – dpa/Bernadette Winter