What we’re cooking this week: Crispy mushrooms

Jim Dixon wrote about food for ww for more than 20 years, but these days he spends most of his time at his olive oil specialty shop, Wellspent Market. Jim has always loved food and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes via his newsletter each week. We are happy that he creates some special dishes just for us again ww Reader.

Here’s the problem with mushrooms: They’re mostly made up of water. If you cook them in a pan with olive oil or butter, their water combines with the fat, and the soupy liquid makes it difficult to achieve a crispy texture. And this golden brown sear is the perfect complement to the mushrooms’ umami load.

I learned how to crisp up mushrooms from the best foraging guide ever: David Arora’s 1991 book All That the Rain Promises and More… He called it “dry sauté,” and it’s brilliantly simple. Place the mushrooms in a pan, turn on the heat and boil off the water before adding the flavorful fat. He applied the method to mushrooms like the rain-soaked chanterelles that you might find on a typical fall day, and while it works for almost all mushrooms, it’s perfect for the mushrooms sold at the grocery store.

Known among mycologists as Agaricus bisporus, they are the most commonly eaten mushrooms in the world. Farmers began cultivating mushrooms as early as the 18th century, but it wasn’t until Louis Pasteur demonstrated the benefits of sterilization in the late 18th century that mushroom cultivation using pathogen-free cultures really took off.

So instead of roaming the forest hoping to find mushrooms at just the right time of year, I just buy them at the supermarket. If your favorite produce department has both white and brown mushrooms, get the white ones as they’re usually cheaper. A mycological farmer found a mutated white Agaricus in 1925, and since white food was considered superior by the somewhat mad diet movement of the time, they became a hit. Most of the white mushrooms sold today are descended from this original mutant, but the brown Agaricus sell better and fetch a higher price. Once cooked, you can no longer tell them apart.

Crispy Mushrooms

1 pound mushrooms, white or brown

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Wash mushrooms in the sink. Despite the warning that they soak up water, they don’t.

Slice or roughly chop each cap into 3 or 4 depending on use. Place them in a dry skillet, preferably cast iron, and add salt (it helps draw out moisture). The pan may look crowded, but as the water boils, the mushrooms will shrink.

Cook over medium-high heat, turning often to expose all the pieces to the heat at the bottom of the pan. The mushrooms will ooze moisture immediately, and if they’re particularly wet you may see a layer of liquid. Press down with the spatula if you want to hear the mushrooms squeak and hiss as they dry.

Continue cooking until liquid has completely evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add oil and cook another 5 minutes or more, stirring occasionally.

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