The key to cooking mushrooms properly is managing their moisture. They love to absorb and retain water, and the second they hit a hot pan, that moisture begins to release . . . so be ready for it!
I learned this technique about 10 years ago when attending a class at the Good Earth Cooking School in Beamsville, Ontario. Patrick Engle, one of the resident chefs at the time showed me what I now refer to as the ‘dry pan’ method and I’ve been loyal to it ever since. Here’s how it works:
Vegetables are typically sautéed in a frying pan with oil or butter. The ‘dry pan’ method sautés mushrooms in a hot, dry pan until slightly crisp and golden, then adds in fat at the end (butter or oil . . . okay, butter). Because of a mushroom’s unique spongy texture and high water content, using a dry pan allows the mushroom to release its water quickly, and in turn, allows that moisture evaporate quickly (adding oil early will form a barrier on the surface of the mushroom). The faster this process can happen, the quicker you can get tender mushrooms with golden caramelization. This dry exterior also allows butter to adhere better to the finished product (always a good thing). Mushrooms that are cooked in fat tend to end up rubbery and grayish-brown.
There are many varieties of mushrooms, and each will react a bit differently. Button, cremini and portobello mushrooms are very sturdy and release their moisture slower than a more fragile mushroom such as shitake or oyster. King mushrooms on the other hand tend to be drier and firmer, so they release less moisture and require fat to be added sooner. The technique is simple, just keep your eye on them as you cook with the high heat and you’ll get the hang of it. Get started with this recipe:
Herby Sautéed Mushrooms
- 10 cups mixed mushrooms
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp finely chopped chives
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp chopped thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- TEAR mushrooms into similar size pieces (roughly 1 to 1 1/2 inches).
- HEAT a large cast iron pan over high heat. When hot, add mushrooms (if you only have a small pan, work in batches). Cook, stirring often until mushrooms are tender, moisture has been released and they are starting to turn golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Add butter and herbs, and remove from heat.
- STIR until butter and herbs are evenly coating the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Kitchen tip: A cast iron pan is best for this method, as it retains a hot, even heat very well. Copper or stainless pans will be problematic as the mushrooms tend to stick and non-stick pans don’t react well with the moisture. I prefer to tear my mushrooms for a rustic look, but some larger mushrooms such as portobello or large button may need to be sliced or chopped.