‘Fun Guy’ as a kitchen ally

For some chefs, a handful of sliced mushrooms provides excellent accents for hamburgers, steaks and
The Portabella mushroom is the perfect shape and nutritional complement for this Eggs Benedict recipe.
The Portabella mushroom is the perfect shape and nutritional complement for this Eggs Benedict recipe.

For some chefs, a handful of sliced mushrooms provides excellent accents for hamburgers, steaks and scrambled eggs.

Other chefs know the food is one of the most versatile around. There are dozens of uses for creative culinary projects.

“Most cooks are comfortable adding mushrooms to everyday meals like sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, omelets, soups, salads or stir fries,” said Bart Minor, president and chief executive officer of the Mushroom Council of San Jose, Calif., which promotes use of the edible fungi. “But there are so many more ways to experiment.”

Pasta, beef, chicken and seafood all benefit from sliced and sautéed mushrooms.

“There’s a reason we call mushrooms ‘fun guys,’ ” Minor said, offering a sly reworking of the word fungi. “I consider mushrooms to be the ultimate ally in the kitchen because they pair with any meal and they’re a prime substitution candidate to make almost any dish a little healthier.”

Portobello burgers are one example, but Minor said mushrooms can be substituted for bread in Eggs Benedict. He also says more mushrooms and fewer meat toppings make pizza a better gastronomic option. And if young people go for more mushrooms on their pizza, they may support more mushrooms in another teen-friendly dish, macaroni and cheese.

“Toss mushrooms into mac and cheese to get your kids eating better, and try mushroom chips with dip,” Minor said. “No matter how you use them, mushrooms add essential nutrients, antioxidants and vitamin D to any dish.”

Grilling options

Christopher Allen Tanner, a certified executive chef and member of the faculty at Schenectady County Community College’s nationally accredited American Culinary Federation culinary arts program, said grill season puts more mushrooms over the flames. He’ll put grilled pieces into salads, where they can provide a meaty texture and flavorful contrasts to greens and other salad additives.

Tanner also can think of mushroom dishes that reflect Schenectady’s Italian culinary heritage — herbs, sautéed mushrooms and shallots make an excellent topping for bruschetta, the grilled Italian bread. He’ll also use grilled mushrooms and shallots to top beef Wellington.

Tanner knows white button mushrooms are popular with shoppers but also reminds people other varieties are available. And when people are willing to buy different varieties, he said, stores are often willing to bring in more types of mushrooms.

“You see oyster mushrooms now, you see shiitakes, not just those plain button mushrooms,” he said. “You go to the Honest Weight Food Co-Op or even to the local farmers’ market, you’ll see chanterelle and bluefoot mushrooms in the spring and summer.”

“They have a citrus taste, a buttery flavor, particularly if you sauté them and get a nice caramelization,” Tanner said of the chanterelles. “They’re a lot different than the button or shiitake mushrooms because they have a lower moisture content. “If you take a little bit of butter, a little bit of olive oil, put them in a sauté pan, you can actually sauté them and get a nice caramelization on the outside so they have a nice savory flavor to them, even more so than the regular mushrooms would.”

Canned mushrooms may be a convenient option, but Tanner doesn’t think they’re the best option. The pasteurization process, he said, just involves too much heat.

“They cook them to death,” he said. “They’re kind of like a spongy, gross weird texture to me. I think you’re better off trying for something fresh, particularly if you can get them at the farmers’ market or the local grocery store. There’s going to be so much more flavor to them.”

Recipes courtesy the Mushroom Council and mushroominfo.com.

Portabella Eggs Benedict

4 slices Canadian bacon

4 large portabella mushroom caps

2 tablespoons canola oil

4 large eggs, poached

For Hollandaise Sauce

5 tablespoons light butter (not margarine)

2 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon warm water

1 scant tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1⁄4 teaspoon coarse salt

Turn oven to broil. Cook bacon in skillet and set aside. Brush mushrooms on both sides with oil and place gill side down on a large, broiler plate and cook for about 3 minutes. Turn the mushrooms gill side up; add bacon on each mushroom, place back in broiler for 2 minutes or until fully heated and crisp.

To make Hollandaise sauce, melt the butter in microwave, about 40 seconds. In a double boiler or metal bowl over simmering water, constantly whisk the egg yolks, warm water, lemon juice and salt until mixture reaches 160 degrees or is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Reduce heat to low. Slowly drizzle in warm melted butter, whisking constantly.

To serve, place mushroom on plate gill side up, pat with paper towel to remove moisture. Top with a poached egg and 2 tablespoons Hollandaise sauce. Serve immediately.

Serves 4. Preparation time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes.

Mushroom Chips and Dip

1⁄2 cup prepared pesto (found in the grocery store near pasta and spaghetti sauces)

1⁄2 cup light sour cream

12 large white button or crimini mushrooms

Squeeze of lemon, season to taste

Mix pesto with sour cream, and set aside. Heat grill to medium, about 365 degrees. Cut each mushroom in half. Grill mushrooms 5 minutes with lid closed, turn and grill another 4 to 5 minutes, until cooked through and starting to brown. Skewer 2 to 3 mushrooms and remove from grill. Serve skewered mushrooms with pesto dip.

Serves 4. Preparation time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes.

Chicken Cacciatore With Mushrooms

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (8 ounces each)

8 ounces (about 2 cups) fresh white mushrooms, sliced 1⁄4-inch thick

1 small garlic clove, crushed through a press

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1⁄2 cup dry white wine or apple juice

1 can (141⁄2 ounces) Italian-style plum tomatoes with juice

1⁄3 teaspoon dried (or 1 teaspoon fresh) oregano

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley

In a large skillet, heat oil. Add the chicken and mushrooms. Cook over medium-low heat until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Add the garlic and salt and pepper to taste and stir until blended. Transfer the chicken and mushrooms to a side dish. Add the wine or apple juice to the skillet. Increase the heat to high and bring the wine or apple juice to a boil, scraping up any browned pieces from the bottom of the skillet, until reduced to a thin film. Add the tomatoes and heat to boiling, breaking the whole tomatoes into pieces with the side of a wooden spoon or spatula.

Return the chicken, mushrooms and any juices to the skillet. Add the dried oregano or, if using fresh oregano, add later. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally; cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 8 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter.

Boil the tomato sauce over high heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Spoon the tomato sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Asian Beef and Mushroom Wraps

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1 pound flank or round steak (or boneless chicken breasts), cut into thin strips

1 pound fresh white mushrooms, sliced (about 6 cups)

1 package (about 16 ounces) frozen stir-fry vegetables (about 11⁄2 cups)

1⁄3 cup hoisin sauce (a Chinese dipping sauce)

6 (8-inch) flour tortillas

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add half of the beef; cook and stir until browned on both sides, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove to plate and set aside. Repeat with remaining beef.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in skillet; add mushrooms. Cook and stir until tender and all the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add vegetables; cook, stirring frequently until vegetables are barely cooked, about 2 minutes. Stir in hoisin sauce and reserved beef; heat 1 minute.

Spoon an equal amount of the beef and mushroom mixture on one side of each tortilla; roll to enclose filling. Cut rolled tortillas in half diagonally, serve immediately.

Serves 6. Preparation and cooking time, about 30 minutes.

Mushroom Pasta Scampi

8 ounces uncooked linguine

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound fresh white mushrooms, sliced (about 6 cups)

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 pound frozen, peeled, de-veined, uncooked large shrimp, thawed

10 ounces fresh spinach, trimmed and torn into pieces (about 7 cups)

1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1⁄4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Cook linguine according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1⁄2 cup pasta water; set aside.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add mushrooms and garlic. Cook and stir until tender and liquid is almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add shrimp. Cover and cook until shrimp is almost cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in spinach and reserved 1⁄2 cup pasta water; cover and cook until spinach is wilted, about 1 minute.

Place pasta in a bowl. Stir in mushroom and shrimp mixture, Parmesan cheese and red pepper. Toss to combine. Season with salt, if desired.

Serves 4. Preparation and cooking time, about 15 minutes.

Baked Mushroom Mac ’n’ Cheese

4 ounces (about 2 cups) elbow macaroni, uncooked

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound white button mushrooms, sliced

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1⁄4 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions.

While pasta cooks, heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a single layer of mushrooms and cook, without stirring, for about 5 minutes or until mushrooms become red-brown on one side. Flip mushrooms and cook about 5 minutes more, until other side is same color.

Melt butter in a large saucepan and stir in flour. Cook for a minute or two to slightly toast flour. Stir in salt and whisk in milk. Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to slightly thicken sauce, for about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, whisk in cheeses and stir to melt. Stir in mushrooms and pasta and transfer to three-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Place dish on baking sheet and bake until cheese bubbles around the edges, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side dish. Preparation time, 25 minutes; cooking time, 30 minutes.

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