My sister is terrified of mushrooms, particularly the gills. This is both slightly annoying and deeply amusing. As someone who likes to feed her family (including this sister), rendering mushrooms past the point of recognizability is tedious; as an older sibling, this phobia offers plenty of opportunities for older sibling hijinks. (It’s also an efficient way to get her out of the kitchen — just thrust a mushroom, gill-side-out, in her general direction.)
Luckily for my sister, the most terrifying portion of the mushroom — which, again, is those dang gills — can be removed quite easily.
What are those gills?
Unlike fish gills — which help fish take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide — the two main functions of mushroom gills (aka “lamella”) are spore dispersal and identification (which the mushroom probably does not care about). Believed to have evolved as a way to increase surface area, and thus the number of spores that could be dispersed, these thin, papery “ribs” are technically edible, though not everyone enjoys them in their food.
Should you remove them?
Whether or not you remove mushroom gills depends on what you’re cooking, and if you like how they taste. The main objection to mushroom gills is one of aesthetics: If left on, they can turn your dish dark and murky, and they tend to have a stronger, mustier, slightly bitter flavour, depending on how fresh they are. According to Serious Eats, fresh gills “should be dry, with a faint pinkish hue when you hold it in the light. If it’s deep dark black or wet looking, the mushroom is past its prime.”
I don’t mind the gills on baby bellas, but the gills on fully grown, mature portobellos can be a bit much, particularly if they are being served as part of a larger dish, and threaten to make it muddy. Gills can also contain grit or sand, but that’s easily removed with a quick rinse.
How to remove them
If you decide to remove the gills from your portobello mushroom, all you’ll need is a spoon. Remove the woody stem, and either mince it finely and cook it with the rest of your dish, or save it for vegetable stock. Take a humble table spoon (not tablespoon), and gently insert the tip under the edge of the gills to pry them off in chunks. Once the gills have been removed, give the cap a quick rinse and cook as usual. (For best results, omit any oil or fat until after you’ve achieved a nice sear. Trust me on this.)