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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.
Mushrooms are one of those classic accompaniments to grilled meats that everybody kind of takes for granted. Half the time they come with your meal at the steakhouse, and from there most people don’t think about them at all.
There’s a bit of an intimidation factor to working with an unfamiliar food, as many people unconsciously shy away from cooking mushrooms at home; perhaps a nebulous fear of poisoning yourself or doing something wrong lingers in the back of their head.
Thankfully, both are baseless. So long as you’re buying fresh mushrooms from the store (dried mushrooms are a bit of a different story), you don’t need to worry about their safety. Go wild!
As for the fear of doing something wrong…well, that’s one of the coolest things about mushrooms: they’re almost impossible to mess up.
Are mushrooms vegetables?
Mushrooms are unlike any other food we commonly eat, since they are neither an animal nor a plant, they’re a fungus. Most people know this intellectually, but don’t really have any idea of what that actually MEANS.
But for our purposes the only thing you really need to know is that mushrooms are built differently, quite literally. They’re constructed of chitin, with thick cell walls that can stand up to a ton of abuse.
Unlike a vegetable, they don’t get soft or mushy very easily. Likewise, unlike meat, they don’t toughen up if overcooked.
You can finish cooking a mushroom in about 5 minutes, and then leave it simmering for another hour and it will come out pretty much identically to the “properly” cooked one.
In short, mushrooms are an extraordinarily forgiving food to cook.
How to prepare Mushrooms
When it comes to getting them ready, there’s only a few things you need to know.
The first is that you need to wash them thoroughly. Also, try to use all of the mushrooms in a single meal, or maybe two meals in the same week; mushrooms actually don’t keep well in the fridge.
The second is when cutting them up. You can do this pretty much however you like, just keep in mind that the stalks have a bit of a different texture compared to the head of the mushroom. Still, they’re perfectly safe to eat, so it’s up to personal preference. Even if you don’t want to eat the stalks directly, it’s great to ang onto them for giving a little extra zip to vegetable broths and the like.
From there. You can make mushrooms using almost any process and they’ll work out. They’re naturally quite juicy, with an incredible umami (savory) flavor that lends itself well to enhancing a variety of dishes.
As you can’t really overcook a mushroom, the biggest danger is perhaps the mushroom drying out while it’s cooking. This isn’t really an issue in a skillet (since it’s easier for the juice to pool in the bottom, and it won’t evaporate all that quickly, or at all with a lid on), but poses a small problem on the grill.
This doesn’t make the mushroom tough, but may reduce its flavor a bit if it happens. However, it’s excellent if you’re making something like a kebab, so it’s not all drippy.
The secret to becoming a grilling mushroom master is to use the right cooking techniques which are basting (or marinating) and covering.
For this reason, the most basic and popular mushroom recipe involves two key ingredients; this would be butter and tin foil.
Put the mushrooms (chopped as you like) in tin foil, slap a couple of tablespoons of butter in there, and crimp the foil closed so very little moisture can escape. Toss the little foil packet on the grill, stand back, and marvel at a job well done.
But while delicious, this doesn’t take advantage of all of the nice properties of mushrooms. You see, mushrooms are basically like little edible sponges.
That opens up a world of possibilities when it comes to cooking, and some hazards as well.
A mushroom will soak up pretty much any liquid you apply to it if left with it long enough, because fresh, raw mushrooms have a ton of air pockets in them.
This applies to oils as well, which is why the butter method above works so well. But it’s equally good for almost ANY liquid. I’m sure you’re beginning to see the possibilities now.
The umami flavor of a mushroom combines perfectly with most other flavor profiles, though a bit less so with sour things than sweet or salty ones.
Spices for mushrooms
You can apply pretty much any seasoning you want to a mushroom, suspended in a liquid, and they will become perfect little flavor bombs to add to any meal. They can be the salty accompaniment to an otherwise plain meal, or add a lot of umami to an otherwise sweet sauce (like some kind of Cantonese sauce), and any other possibility you think of.
This applies equally well to the grill and the sauté pan, and is the best advice for cooking mushrooms I can give you: go nuts. DO pretty much whatever you want with them. It’ll turn out fine.
Unless you’re simmering them for hours beyond what you should be, they’ll have great texture. Unless you’re going out of your way to combine them with some absolutely bizarre flavor choice (like watermelon candy or something; it would truly need to be really out there) they’ll taste great.
Just keep in mind that key factor of moisture when cooking on the grill. Wrap or otherwise cover your mushrooms so they don’t dry out, and/or baste frequently. A marinade the night before works wonders as well.
Final tip: if you cook them along with other vegetables (in a medley, for example) they’re really great at soaking up those juices too, leaving your vegetables less soggy and your mushrooms more flavorful.
Read also: Ideas for potluck dinners.