It’s 5:30 after a long day at work; you’re starving, and you just want to throw dinner together and sit down to eat a decent meal. But there are mushrooms to deal with.
Great news: Prepping mushrooms is not as finicky as you might expect. You don’t need to painstakingly clean every speck from every mushroom with a special brush. And they’re easy to chop, especially with a few tips.
HOW TO CLEAN MUSHROOMS
In the wild, mushrooms grow in rotting organic material. Cultivated mushrooms grow in pasteurized organic material. So, don’t freak out about eating horse poop, even though some commercial growers use chicken and cow manure in their compost mix. By the time the mushrooms grow in it, it’s become a whole other thing.
Still, residue of that whole other thing can still be on the mushrooms when they are harvested. No one wants to eat dirty or gritty mushrooms. Here’s how to clean them:
- If the mushrooms look super clean, you don’t need to clean them off.
- If they are little slimy but not dirty, wipe them off with a paper towel.
- If they are a little dirty and/or slimy, wipe them off with a paper towel.
- If they are really dirty, rinse them off.
YES, MUSHROOMS CAN GET WET!
Mic drop! Yes, mushrooms can get wet—despite what scores of cookbooks and chefs and know-it-alls insist. It’s fine. Go ahead and rinse them off! Clean, grit-free mushrooms are your gain.
I do it all the time. They do absorb a tiny amount of water, but nothing that will destroy your ability to brown those mushrooms nicely in a skillet.
If the mushrooms are on the dirty side, put them in a colander, run them under water for about 10 seconds, and then gently brush them dry with a paper towel. Blot them dry again right before sautéing, since you would like them to get brown (moisture = enemy of browning).
HOW TO SLICE AND CHOP MUSHROOMS
First, assess the stems. Some mushrooms have woody stems. I’ve encountered this even with white, cremini, and portobello mushrooms; all shiitakes have woody stems.
If the stems are tough, you can snap them off and discard them, or save them to add to stock. (Shiitake stems you’ll need to cut off with a paring knife.)
Even if the stems are not tough, it’s still a good idea to trim off and discard any dry ends. Your payoff will be a better texture once you cook them.
And now you’re ready to prep! Here are your options:
Put the mushrooms stem-side-down on the cutting board. Make a claw with your hand, then move down the mushroom, slicing into the thickness you desire.
Can I blow your mind? I’ve been into chopping mushrooms lately instead of slicing them. You get nice, meaty pieces that are texturally interesting—chewy instead of floppy.
This is best for small white or cremini mushrooms. Put them stem side down or stem side up, whichever works best. If you have larger mushrooms, cut them into wedges, or if the mushroom is thick, cut the cap crosswise and then chop.
Mushrooms shrink down so much when you cook them that any imperfect cuts won’t be obvious, so relax and enjoy the knife prep!
MUSHROOM PREPPING HACKS
- Use an egg slicer to slice mushrooms thinly. Press it down firmly and swiftly for the best result.
- Use a food processor. Need to mince mushrooms? Chop them roughly, then pulse them in a food processor until they’re in teeny-tiny pieces. You can also run them (raw or cooked) through a meat grinder. Add these minced mushrooms to a blended burger; cook them like meat for a mushroom Bolognese, or make mushroom caviar.
- Use a melon baller. Reach for a melon baller to clear a nice cavity for stuffed mushrooms. This way you can get more stuffing in there. (Mmm, stuffing.)
- Scrape portobellos with a metal spoon. Portobello mushrooms have pronounced blackish-brown gills on the undersides of their caps. These can get slimy in the cooking process, so for a cleaner look and feel, scrape the gills off with a small metal spoon before cooking (although you will sacrifice a bit of the flavor by doing this).
HOW TO SAUTÉ MUSHROOMS
Properly sautéed mushrooms are a thing of glory. They get a deeper flavor and a fantastic texture. Mushrooms have a ton of moisture, so it helps to know a few tricks. If you want lovely sautéed mushrooms to serve on a steak, over pasta, or as a base for risotto, keep this in mind.
- Start with a hot skillet. Wait for your dry skillet to be hot (use medium-high or high heat), then add the fat. Butter tends to burn before the mushrooms finish browning, so oil or bacon grease is the way to go). You want a decent amount—about a tablespoon of fat for eight ounces of mushrooms.
- Don’t crowd the skillet when you add the mushrooms. If the mushrooms are too close together, they’ll steam, not brown.
- Leave them be. In fact, don’t move them around at all for at least a minute or so. The mushrooms will release their moisture, and this can take a while. You’ll see them shrink before your eyes: Water will seep out of them and eventually evaporate out of the skillet, and they’ll get a nice brown color.
- Wait to toss them. When the mushrooms start to sag and have lost at least a third of their size, you can finally toss them. If you do it too soon, they won’t get brown. Sprinkle them with salt at this point. You’ll notice the un-browned sides get browned faster now.
- Look for the glisten. When the mushrooms glisten with oil and still hold a distinct shape but are a lot smaller and golden-brown on at least two sides, they’re all done browning. Cook them any longer, and they’ll shrivel or burn.
You can also dry-sauté mushrooms—without fat! Since sautéing by definition uses fat, these aren’t actually sautéed, but they do get a good flavor and are an option for those watching their fat intake.
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