Mushrooms are a controversial food. They’re ranked with disgust among the likes of pineapple on pizza, black licorice and cilantro -foods that are hotly debated among friends and family around dinner tables. Oftentimes, people turn their noses up at these misunderstood fungi simply because most haven’t experienced a mushroom cooked to perfection.
Children are notorious for disliking mushrooms, and often grown adults still outright refuse to eat a mushroom with a meal, and you can’t blame them. Who wants to eat a soggy, rubbery mushroom? But it’s not the mushroom’s fault; they’re sensitive spores, and it’s easy to turn them into an edible disaster. Water, heat and surface area all play a role in how mushrooms tend to be left uneaten on someone’s plate.
Mushrooms are sensitive to water, externally and internally. Mushrooms shouldn’t be washed since they’re prone to absorbing moisture, so just brush the dirt off the surface. They’re also naturally packed with water, so you need to be careful with how you’re heating them; otherwise, you’ll end up with a pool of water steaming your mushrooms.
Heat draws out moisture. This isn’t inherently bad, but low heat will simmer your mushrooms in the pan with the water that seeps out. High heat will still draw out the moisture, but the mushrooms are given a fighting chance by getting brown and crispy. This is thanks to the Maillard reaction at work, a chemical reaction that gives food more flavour when high heat is applied. This is the reason why bread tastes good after a brief stint in the toaster, and mastering this simple technique is the first key to a great mushroom!
If you throw all of your mushrooms in the pan at once, the heat of your pan will drop down. The sizzle of the mushrooms sauteing is what you should hear the whole time you’re cooking. Surface area is the key to a good sizzle, so space them out enough so the steam can evaporate instead of pooling. They don’t need ‘mushroom’ at all, but they need just enough so the pan isn’t crowded. After a few minutes in the pan, toss them with garlic, shallots and butter if you’d like, or just sprinkle them with salt and pepper before serving.
Mushrooms don’t deserve to be disliked to the extent they are, and one way to combat the anti-mushroom community is to introduce the masses to the incredible varieties of edible fungi. Gruger Family Fungi in Nisku, Alta., is one of the largest indoor vertical mushroom farms in the country producing varieties like chanterelles, golden oysters and more. For a flavourful fungi option, owner Rachel Yadlowski recommends Lion’s Mane, an orange, tender, lobster-like mushroom.
“It’s so rich. It’s such an amazing texture and It’s got this unique seafood-esque flavour to it,” says Yadlowski.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms are praised for their meaty texture, and they take well to being breaded, grilled or seared just like meat. They’re forgiving to cook with, something that most people don’t often attribute to mushrooms. Even so, wild mushrooms truly look wild, which tends to dissuade people from trying them.
“It just looks like this strange cauliflower…We’ve had a woman come up to us and say, ‘I’ve not eaten a mushroom in thirty years, they’re disgusting, I won’t touch them,’ and she enjoyed this mushroom!”, says Yadlowski.
Wild mushrooms provide chefs and home cooks the opportunity to interact with mushrooms that provide more avenues for creativity in comparison to your supermarket cremini mushroom. Mushroom-naysayers might be more easily convinced to revisit their bias if they can taste a mushroom that has the texture and taste of a piece of bacon.
Whatever the case may be, it’s time for more people to experience the wonders of mushrooms, and it’s up to mushroom lovers to take the time and care in their own kitchens to ensure this food is enjoyed by more and more people every day. Start small by mincing mushrooms into a barely-detectable umami booster, or go big by grilling them whole and letting their flavour do the talking. There’s a mushroom out there for everyone, they just need to address their ‘morels’ and get eating!