The humble button mushroom packs as many or more antioxidants than more expensive varieties. And with a few simple ingredients, it packs amazing flavor too. A pair of recipes below.
After weeks of meat and fish, it’s time for vegetables to take center stage with another in the series of A Little Something on the Side.
We all remember the rotary phone, right? Before the advent of the touchtone phone, though, the retroactively dubbed rotary phone was just “the phone.”
And not so long ago in most American supermarkets and kitchens, humble button mushrooms were just mushrooms. Unless you were one of those people who trekked out into the woods collecting wild mushrooms [and in doing so, inspiring countless articles about the deadly dangers of toadstools], button mushrooms were pretty much the only game in town.
Now, between fresh and dried varieties, we have an embarrassment of mushroom riches at our fingertips. The portobello, once exotic and hard to find, is now almost boringly available in most stores. Shiitake, crimini, oyster, porcini, chanterelle, morel and a dazzling array of other fungi are increasingly finding their way onto store shelves and into our culinary hearts. Just this past weekend, I found enoki mushrooms, those slender, almost alien-being looking Japanese beauties, shrink-wrapped and sharing shelf space with portobello caps and pre-sliced “baby bellas” [they’re just crimini mushrooms, people—don’t get all wound up] in my neighborhood grocery store.
With competition like this, it’s easy for dependable old button mushrooms to get kicked to the curb, to be seen as somehow less wonderful than their more exotic, more expensive brethren.
Not so fast. Turns out button mushrooms have plenty going on, especially in the health department. According to a recent article in ScienceDaily [sent to me by fellow Internet magpie Carolyn—the magpie motto: “Ooooh, here’s another shiny link!”], “The humble white button mushroom [Agaricus bisporus] has as much, and in some cases, more anti-oxidant properties than more expensive varieties.” Who knew? For that matter, who knew that mushrooms even contained antioxidants, let alone that button mushrooms were particularly rich in them?
Which reminds me of a commentary I heard on American Public Media’s Marketplace last week. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, says that despite the growing cacophony of health claims from processed, packaged foods, the healthiest foods are still to be found in the produce section. “In fact,” Pollan states, “The more processed the food, the less nutritious it typically is. Yet it’s the processed food makers who have the marketing budgets to do the research to support the health claims and then shout them from the rooftops.” So we sometimes forget that “the hands-down healthiest foods in the supermarket are the unprocessed vegetables and fruits and whole grains. These foods sit silently in the produce section or the bulk-food bins. They don’t utter a word about their antioxidants or heart-healthiness, while just a few aisles over the sugary cereals scream about their heart-healthy ‘whole grain goodness.'”
So button mushrooms are healthy. What about taste? Now see, here’s the great thing about mushrooms—they are flavor sponges. In fact, you have to store them carefully so they don’t soak up flavors from your fridge [see Kitchen Notes for storage tips]. So while the more esoteric mushrooms offer delicious variations on the unmistakable earthy theme that make them absolutely worth exploring, button mushrooms, when combined with the right ingredients, can do some pretty amazing things too.
In the quick, simple recipes below, butter and salt combine first with garlic and parsley, then with port, to make the humble button heavenly.
This first dish makes a delicious first course or, served in smaller portions, an elegant amuse-bouche. It’s been described as a mushroom take on classic escargots, and indeed, when I described preparing mushrooms this way to a French colleague without mentioning the connection, she said, “Ahhh, just like escargots!”
Sautéed Mushrooms with Garlic Butter
Makes four first-course servings
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 lb small white mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced in half
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Melt butter with garlic, salt and pepper over low heat in a lidded sauté pan or skillet. Add mushrooms and toss with garlic butter to coat. Cover the pan and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally and making sure garlic doesn’t burn. Reduce heat to very low, if necessary. During the cooking process, the mushrooms will release their moisture. Most of this will steam away as they cook; what remains will become part of a lovely garlicky/buttery sauce.
Just before serving, toss mushrooms with parsley. A more involved version of this dish at epicurious.com involves croutons and baking the mushrooms; personally, I think the crunchy croutons would just get in the way.
What Would Julia Do? Sautéed mushrooms—who hasn’t made them, right? But one day, tucked in the middle of a quiche recipe by Deb over at Smitten Kitchen, I found this revelation: Julia Child’s method for sautéing mushrooms. As Deb so beautifully put it, “How does she take something you’ve done your whole life and convince you each time you could have been doing it better because they’ve never tasted this good?”
These are delicious with baked or mashed potatoes, as shown above, and are absolutely wonderful spooned over steaks.
Julia Child’s Sautéed Mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon port
5 to 6 large white mushrooms, sliced
Melt butter in a sauce pan over moderately low heat. Add port and salt, swirling to combine. Add mushrooms and stir to coat them with the butter mixture. Cover pan and cook for 8 minutes; mushrooms will give off moisture, so don’t be concerned that there isn’t enough liquid in the pan.
Remove lid, raise heat and boil for several minutes until liquid is completely evaporated [I actually stop just short of letting the liquid evaporate completely—this little bit of liquid is a heavenly extra as you spoon the mushrooms over a steak or baked or mashed potatoes]. Serve.
Storing mushrooms. On just about every topic including this one, everyone’s got an opinion. What most people say, though, and what works just fine for me, is to put them in a paper bag, fold the top shut and store them in your fridge. Despite their dry outer appearance, mushrooms contain a fair amount of moisture [as we see when we have them in a hot pan]; storing them in plastic will cause them to spoil faster. For the same reason, don’t store them in the vegetable crisper drawer, which is specifically designed to keep produce from drying out. All that said, if your mushrooms come packaged in plastic wrap, most sources say to leave them that way ’til you’re ready to use them. Regarding that, use them within a few days, or within a week if they are packaged and unopened.
Cleaning mushrooms. We all have those little soft brushes for cleaning mushrooms tucked in a drawer somewhere, don’t we? Leave them there. What works best, hands down, is a dry, wadded up paper towel. Use it to gently brush dirt from mushrooms. Scrape away any stubborn spots with a paring knife. Don’t rinse mushrooms unless you plan to dump them right into a sauce—they have enough moisture in them already.
Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 2/20/2008
Books and dogs and rock & roll. Harry and the Potters play inventive, geeky rock & roll at libraries and bookstores—and one of them blogs about hot dogs, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?
1.67 cents for your thoughts. With the cost of copper and zinc going up, who knows if the Lincoln penny make it to its 100th anniversary celebration, at WTF? Random food for thought.