For Better Sautéed Mushrooms, Boil Them First

For Better Sautéed Mushrooms, Boil Them First

Everyone knows that moisture is the enemy of the Maillard reaction, which makes it tricky to brown ingredients that release water as they cook. But strangely enough, the secret to better (and faster) sautéed mushrooms is cooking them in water: Boiling your shrooms before pan-frying actually helps them brown.

Just like soaking tofu in boiling salt water, boiling mushrooms “dries them out” a little. Boiled mushrooms brown faster and more evenly than raw; you don’t have to wait for them to cook down, so you don’t have to worry too much about crowding the pan. As long as they eventually make contact with a hot, oiled skillet, boiled mushrooms will brown nicely. It’s a quick, simple way to make cooking with mushrooms easier.

To try it yourself, just prepare your mushrooms however you’d like and put a half-full pot of heavily salted water on to boil. (You need plenty of room for the shrooms.) Add your mushrooms to the boiling water and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring to make sure that every piece cooks evenly. Then drain them in a colander, shake off as much of the water as you can (use a salad spinner if you have one), and sauté as usual.

I made a batch of dry sautéed shrooms to compare, and the results were nearly identical. The mushrooms in the cast iron pan on left were boiled first, and the ones in the stainless skillet on the right were cooked dry; I finished both with garlic and butter:

Photo: A.A. Newton
Photo: A.A. Newton

As you can see above, both techniques produced mushrooms that were nicely browned. They also were tender and readily absorbed the ample quantities of butter and garlic I added for flavour. If I had to pinpoint a difference, I’d say the boiled batch turned out slightly meatier and juicier than the dry sautéed batch, but not by much. Both methods also took about the same amount of time, even when accounting for the boiling step.

You can’t go wrong with either technique, but I think boiling is definitely the move whenever you’re working with a lot of mushrooms. Since they shrink down quite a bit in the boiling water, you can fit more in the pan when it comes time to brown them up. That, combined with the improved texture, really makes me want to revisit my vegan bolognese with roasted eggplant and mushrooms. I suspect that boiling minced (or food processor-ed) mushrooms before pan-frying them will make the final texture even more meaty and delicious — and the literal second it stops being 85 degrees every day in Portland, I’m going to find out for myself.

    

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