Oyster Mushroom
Photo by Donna

Donna got these from the mushroom man at our farmers market because they entranced her. But what to do once she's had her way with them?!

Much depends on the mushroom. Big meaty fat cepes and chanterelles are excellent roasted. The coolest looking mushroom, the morel, likes soft heat and a creamy environment. These are varieties the forager Connie Green calls "act of God mushrooms," mushrooms that appear from out of nowhere, mushrooms that must be stalked.

But for cultivated mushrooms, which is what most of us work with, everyday mushrooms, I always go with really high heat—a smoking hot pan, plenty of neutral oil. Most cultivated mushrooms—the ubiquitous white button, oyster mushrooms (above), shiitakes—don't have a big flavor on their own.  It's up to the cook to elevate that flavor. You do this by browning the mushroom, and you can only accomplish this at a temperature that's so hot, the moisture in the fungus doesn't have time to start falling out.  Once that happens, as soon as water gets into the pan, the temperature drops to 212 degrees and you can't get any more browning. All you get is lots more moisture. Another way to drop the temperature of your pan is to put too many mushrooms in it. The key to really tasty mushrooms is high heat and not crowding the pan.

I salt immediately upon putting them in the pan then add minced shallot . Mushrooms cooked this way can be chilled and reheated gently in butter.  Pepper them and give them a small squeeze of lemon to finish. If you can find good mushrooms like the ones above, simply prepared and served with some crusty baguette, they can be a meal in themselves. They also make a fantastic, sauce-like accompaniment to roasted chicken or veal or asparagus.

Other ways to vary them are to deglaze the pan with some white wine after you've got a nice sear on the mushrooms. A pinch of curry powder can  heighten their flavor—not so much that you can taste the curry, add just enough to intrigue. Add whole cloves of garlic and fresh thyme to the oil just before you saute mushrooms, and they'll pick up these aromatic flavors.  Mushrooms add a depth and savoriness to eggs, vegetables, meat and fish—great on their own when well cooked, and they're a powerful way to add flavors to other foods.

Cooking them well is all it takes. Eric Ripert still remembers the oyster mushrooms when he was a young cook at Robuchon's 3-star Jamin. He had to cook each one individually to get that perfect sear. That's what it takes, that's what makes the difference.

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47 Wonderful responses to “How To Cook Mushrooms”

  • Christopher Roberts

    Delicious. (And, no, no recipe needed.) I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve always done the opposite of what you instruct here. That is, I throw a lot of mushrooms in the pan with a lot of olive oil and butter (and sometimes shallots, as you suggest), go low and slow with the heat, and walk away.

    I would also add something that perhaps your regular commenters know well, namely that my children who — through no fault of my own! — can be red meat averse, love portobello mushrooms presented as burger or steak. The portobello is not subtle, but it plays a valuable role on the mushroom team!

  • Natalie Sztern

    Two mushrooms I cannot stand to eat are button and oyster…I don’t know how to prepare oyster mushrooms to their fullest flavor and button, well, yech. Plus outside of Spam in a can, the next disgusting is mushrooms in a can

  • Debbie

    Excellant post, and pictures. I have purchased mushrooms from this vendor, and I’m sorry to say, I ruined them! Now I can’t wait to get my hands on some!

  • Michael Greenberg

    This is pretty much the approach I follow. A delicious instantiation of this idea is Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe (in Land of Plenty) for a Szechuan mushroom stir-fry, cooked partially in lard or chicken fat. Mmmm!

    I’m a little surprised to see you mention salting the mushrooms during searing. Won’t this draw out moisture, via osmosis? I would think you’d get a better sear by adding salt later. Naturally, this calls for an experiment.

  • Jason Sandeman

    Indeed the caramelization of the natural sugars inside the mushrooms are the key to the flavor enhancement. I use a lot of artisan mushrooms, such as the Maitake, Honey mushrooms, and shiitake. The key is to get the initial color, then go from there.

    If you like, pairing those elements with fresh lotus root and water chestnuts will make a wonderful accompaniment to a stir fry as well.

    With portabella, I find it is important to scoop out the gills underneath, or you will find yourself with a muddy flavor.

    Add water to your mushrooms, and fire in a cubed potato – simmer until the potato is soft, puree and you have a mushroom chowder.

  • katedecamont

    Mushroom hunters here dry saute Cèpes (boletus edulis)until most the moisture evaporates and then add the oil to brown. Different methods give different delicious results!

  • ruhlman

    I appreciate people’s remarks on salt, here and on FB, and don’t disagree. But searing must happen so quickly that salt added immediately really doesn’t have time to start drawing out moisture. As long as you salt early enough for the salt to evenly season the mushrooms, the timing of the salt isn’t critical.

  • Kate in the NW

    THANK YOU!!! 🙂

    They seem to be finding that mushrooms are one of those “superfoods” that are really good for you, so we try to eat a lot of them.

    In the fall/winter one of my family’s favorite dishes is “mushroom pepper pot”, which we first tried in a lovely little smoky, wood-paneled pub on Scotland’s rainy north shore…it uses up lots of perhaps below-grade/banal ‘shrooms that are available everywhere pretty cheap. PLUS, most kids love it (just don’t tell them the name) – and it can be tough to get some kids to eat mushrooms. even my daughter’s “PB&J friends” like this dish:

    Slice about half a ton of cheap shrooms, (I add a few “good” ones like shitake or portabello just for extra flavor), caramelize like you said, with the shallots, but in batches ’cause you need a LOT of them – then pile ’em all in the pot (I like Creuset for this), add milk and cream (sometimes I grudgingly use non-fat condensed milk rather than cream in deference to my heart-healthy husband), LOTS of coarse-ground pepper, salt to taste – stew it for a while until it’s thick and creamy, then serve on toast beside a red ale or a nice stout. And a good book.

    Good way to spend the winter…

  • Andrew

    Michael –

    For some reason, only mushroom-club geeks seem to know this, but another way to cook them is to “dry fry”. Place the cut mushrooms in a medium-hot dry skillet sprinkled with salt (& pepper if desired), well spaced. Salt tops, cook until browned, then turn and cook other side(s). They can be eaten straight from the pan, or doctored up with other ingredients at this point.

    Because they are 90% water, they don’t burn this way. The water is instead quickly driven off, which than allows a nice brown crust to form.

    Besides being a useful starting point for mushroom recipes, this is the ideal method to use when you want to taste a mushroom in its most elemental state (other than raw, that is, not generally recommended).

  • Andrew

    Whoops, Kate beat me to the punch. And yes, adding oil or butter after the water comes off helps promote more browning.

  • Bud

    Great post, and that image is killer. I like to make a foil pouch with shrooms, shallots, thyme, butter, wh wine and a bit of s&p. Toss the pouch in the coals of a hot camp fire for ten minutes. WOW with a bit of crusty bread, YUMMY! Shrooms grow all around one of our fav camping spots.

  • MichaelG

    Just as you say but sometimes with several varieties of mushrooms and finish with a splash of sherry.

  • marlene

    I will never know the joys of mushrooms, due to a severe allergy, but the photo is fabulous, and I think the post self explanatory in terms of how to cook them, with no recipe needed.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    Those of us who are humter-gather types always add cracked black pepper to our mushrooms … so we think that the crunchie black bits are pepper and not bugs or forest dirt.

    My favorite mushroom to pick is the very same Oyster Mushroom ( Pleurotus ostreatus ) and I cook it as Michael suggests … served on thinly sliced brown bread toast.

    Oyster Mushroom are still possible to find in the NE. They are some of the last to fruit into the Fall.

    And, yes, do learn the mushroom before you ingest it.

  • lux

    “deglaze the pan with some white wine after you’ve got a nice sear on the mushrooms” –> my personal favorite

  • Rhonda

    Ruhls, love the mushrooms and just saw your tweets.

    Re Tweets: two things; How can you possibly compose a “recipe” on how to saute mushrooms?

    If a reader is here and expects that, I have the same advice that I give to Vegans who visit the resto and that is: “Dude, you are seriously lost and in the wrong place”.

    Second, I saw the debate on whether to wipe down mushrooms or wash them. Wash them for fucks sake! Run them under water before you cook them. Remember, they were grown in shit and using a bacteria laden cloth to wipe of dirt is lunacy. It takes a while for mushrooms to absorb extra water.

    Cranky today, and that is all I have to say about that…

    xxx

  • Kate in the NW

    I don’t mean to excite the ire of Cranky Rhonda, but I have to strenuously disagree on the washing edict – but I’d love to read a little (friendly, if passionate) debate on the subject.

    My Mama said “don’t EVER wash a mushroom – just wipe it off with a damp cloth – washing them ruins the texture, especially if you’re going to cook them” and it’s a law I live by.

    I am 41 and despite consuming vast quantities of unwashed mushrooms, I have never gotten sick from them.
    ‘Cause:
    1) a little dirt won’t kill you (and they grow in very well-composted loam – its not sh*t anymore by the time they’re growing mushrooms in it, folks…)
    and
    2) You cook ’em! Heat = clean.

    A while back I took a five-week French technique course from a very young, very sweet “Cordon Bleu-trained professional chef” who couldn’t figure out why her mushroom sauce was runny and watery – IT’S BECAUSE SHE SUBMERGED THE ^%&*& MUSHROOMS!!!!!! I had to bite my tongue really hard to avoid saying anything, particularly because it was a LOT of absolutely magnificent, hard-won, wild-foraged beauties from the Cascades.

    Come on, people – there’s probably more dirt and bacteria in the water pitcher at your favorite restaurant than on an innocent little forest-dweller.

    So there. I’m cranky too! [insert “tthhhhbbtt!” and wink]

  • Natalie Sztern

    OOps the Oyster Mushroom I love…i don’t know how to cook the enokitake mushrooms…that’s the mushroom I have difficulty with…

  • Rhonda

    Ok, Kate;

    Not a “Throwdown” because this premise also makes me cranky and that is another subject.

    However, I do love ya, and as we are long time posters here and I know you, I must say, your mama, like my mama, is WRONG!

    I learned the washing of the mushrooms from the teachings of Jacques Pepin. He learned from HIS mentors.

    My mother, like yours, are wonderful cooks but my mother is guided by what she learned from HER mentor(s) which in my case was my great grandmother. I try to teach my mother that you can cook pork medium rare without acquiring trichinosis. Still, she has to make sure that poor pig who gave his life dies another three times before it is safe to serve.

    This is a housewives tale that our beloved mothers who cooked the best meals of our lives bought into.

    What I love about your post, as we are the same “ageish” is that your mother had fresh mushrooms to work with. I Love that! Until the late 80’s that wasn’t the case in many “supermarkets”.

  • Carri

    a little dry mustard works, too. Like the curry, not enough to actually taste. It really heightens the flavors in the mushrooms.

  • Kate in the NW

    Aaaah, Pepin – what does he know… 😉

    Okay, okay…but I still don’t like to wash ’em!

  • Blaine

    Alton Brown / Good Eats had a show on the mushroom / water thing. He soaked mushrooms in water, weighed them, cooked them, all that stuff and proved that washing them does not materially add water to the shroom. Even if they were soaked in water for 30 mins. Now I rinse them off.

  • allen

    I just had my first Matsutaki mushroom picked myself in the Olympic rain forrest. They are like an aged beef tenderloin with pine and cinnamon, not like any other mushroom. To make my harvest last for a while I dried half of them and ground them in a coffee grinder with fleur de sel salt 50/50 and use this throughout the year. The other half I minced, sauted with a little thyme and deglazed with some white wine and froze in ice cube trays for easy recipe additions. And I also scored about a pound of wild chantrelles that I simply sauted and froze whole, they’re just OK good, Matsutaki’s are spectacular good!

  • Heather

    Thanks for the great advice as always but I have to say that the photo is probably one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen. Enchanting indeed.

  • bob

    Anyone have a good recipe for flying ointment? that uses some sort of mushroom, doesn’t it.

    heheheh..

  • Ms. Glaze

    I don’t think it’s always necessary to sauté oyster mushrooms. You can roast them on super hight heat (450-500˚) for about 5 minutes tossed with a little canola oil, salt, and minced ginger. Don’t forget them in the oven, like I always do at work! Afterward, sprinkle a little nice soy sauce over.

    Mushrooms can be washed if they are dirty, but you can’t let them sit in water for a long time or they will absorb it and that is when the cooking process gets messy. A lot of mushrooms are not grown in merde and simply just need the stems removed.

  • luis

    It makes sense… High heat to sear and not poach the usual suspects.. Good job Michael. I will try this. I am totally confident it will elevate my mushrooms out of tha park.
    But NO BUTTER and NO BACON fat neither. Capish?
    I am always very impressed by your ability to balance the right spices with your dishes. In fact I am downright envious of it.
    I wish you would write a book like “RATIO” for spices and us kitchen weekend warriors to perhaps not elevate us much but sorta push us over the salt and pepper thresold and make our kitchen experience a bit more bearable. What can I do and what can’t I do with a rack of spices? What? o’Wizard of tha kitchen?

  • cedar hope chest

    My mother finds mushrooms unlikeable since she really does not know how to describe its tastes. But me, I love it! It is something I always want to eat!

  • MonkeyBoy

    Well at least nobody is insisting that mushrooms be peeled as my wife did shortly after our marriage. (except for some exotics that have bitter skin)

    With respect to washing, there have been numerous reported experiments with button/meadow mushrooms that say that they gain no to very little water after being immersed in water.

    If you are concerned about water gain you can use a salad spinner on the shrooms.

    Somebody should do controlled experiment with the more exotic mushrooms because internet wisdom is very conflicted on this. (And use fresh mushrooms because my local supermarket has an exotic mushroom section full of tired dried out looking specimins which would probably act like sponges).

    With respect to caramelization to add flavor, for at least button mushrooms, this can be done towards the end. I watched an Italian cook add butter, mushrooms, and onion family stuff to a pan, cook till a lot of juice was expressed and then evaporated, and then brown the mushrooms. At this point it became like a risotto with numerous doses of red wine being added and allowed to cook off. I don’t know if this should be called “sauteed mushrooms” or “mushrooms stewed in red wine” but it was heavily umagi delicious – which works well with bland mushrooms but could kill the taste of others.

  • Abra Bennett

    We’re having a fabuous mushroom year here in France – the chanterelles in particular have an incredible, deep haunting flavor.

    Tonight I had a panful of trompettes de la mort, and here’s where the washing thing comes in. The mushroom lady that sells from her stand at the twice-weekly market insists that you must put these in a colander and rinse them thoroughly. Then you fry them in a dry pan until all the water is evaporated. Once the mushrooms are dry again you add some fat. I prefer to use duck fat, a little garlic, maybe some parsley, and fry them some more until they’re where you like them. Honestly, you can just eat them straight out of the pan when you cook them like that, they’re that wonderful.

  • Kate in the NW

    So maybe the consensus is rinse but don’t soak? And maybe some varieties do better with water than others?

    [sigh…]

    As with most good things, there’s no simple answer, I guess…but I sure did learn a lot here, so
    THANK YOU, everybody…

  • Rhonda

    Thank you, Abra for backing me up.

    I TOO also use duck fat!

    Vive la France!

    BTW, I love your Blog.

    It is personal, cozy and reflects the best memories I have of my experience with France which I am aching to get back to.

  • Rhonda

    Kate, Kate, Kate:

    Damn you, your post posted before mine. We were obviously writing at the same time.

    Yes!! Wash but do not soak. I, personally didn’t say this because I thought it was implicit.
    I was wrong and perhaps gave the wrong impression.

    Wash but don’t soak.

    It is like the answer to the age old question, “How Long Do I Cook This?’

    …Until it is done….

  • erik

    This technique worked great Ruhlman. Used it with great success for a mushroom risotto. Thanks, as usual, you’re spot on.

  • scott

    take a bunch of mushrooms and put them in a bowl of water. lift them into another bowl. now look at how dirty the original bowl with water has become. who wants to eat dirt?

  • vitamins

    Excellent post, and pictures. I have purchased mushrooms from the other vendor.I agree with the stand that Somebody should do controlled experiment with the more exotic mushrooms because internet wisdom is very conflicted on this.

  • kellypea

    Love the shot of the oyster shrooms. Recently sauteed some with oh so precious chanterelles and enjoyed them w/asparagus. Your tip of adding a bit of curry sounds intriguing — maybe next time.

  • Jose

    One way of improving the taste of button and or crimini shrooms is to start by making a reduction using dried porcini steeped in hot water. Coat the sliced, chopped, whole etc shrooms to cover with the reduction then cook as you will.