“Thirty years ago, you couldn’t give that mushroom away,” grower Michael Bulich said of the popular portobello mushroom.
Bulich is a third-generation grower, but his family’s company, Bulich Mushroom Co., didn’t start growing portobellos until around 1989. That’s when Michael graduated from college and began looking at some more exotic options than the white button mushroom that made up the bulk of their crop.
At the time, the demand for portobellos had just started to take off as the American palate began to acquire a taste for the gourmet, unusual and exotic. Now the Bulichs grow about 150,000 pounds of portobellos each year on their 125-acre farm in Catskill, Greene County.
The portobello is actually a mature crimini mushroom. The immature ones are sold as criminis, “baby bellas” or mini bellas. Allowing the immature mushrooms another three days of growth would turn them into large-capped portobellos, 4 to 6 inches in diameter. At Bulich’s, the staff pick crimini mushrooms, thinning out the beds so that the portobellos have a chance to grow larger.
Portobellos are available year-round because they are grown inside buildings in the dark, in temperature-regulated beds filled with sterilized straw, manure and peat moss. Workers wear head lamps to tend to the beds of mushrooms.
The popularity of portobellos skyrocketed because of the mushroom’s meaty texture and rich flavor, which serves as a hearty alternative to meat for the health-conscious and vegetarians. “They’re great because they’re so hearty and thick — they’re almost like a meat,” said Marla Ortega, a certified executive chef at the Ilium Café in Troy. “Sometimes when you’re eating it, you forget that’s it’s a vegetable in place of meat,” she said.
Portobellos can be marinated in a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and garlic, then grilled and served in a sandwich or salad. The meaty texture and denser flavor are due in part to less moisture content, because the mushroom’s gills are fully exposed.
“You can substitute a portobello for a steak in the way you’d prepare it,” Bulich said. “They really took off for grilling,” he said, noting that they’re very popular during the barbecue months. One of Bulich’s favorite portobello dishes is a stuffed pizza portobello. “The portobello becomes the pizza dough — the crust,” he said, and stuffed with sausage, onions and peppers, smothered in cheese for the topping and then cooked, “it’s just fantastic.”
Ortega likes to make a grilled vegetable panini with portobellos. “They’re the heart of the sandwich,” she said. She also uses the mushrooms as a cup for a tofu blend or hummus spread, or she cooks them tempura-style and uses them on top of other dishes as a garnish.
Nutritionally, the portobello is no lightweight. A 100-gram mushroom has 26 calories and supplies 2.5 grams of protein, 1.5 grams of fiber and 484 milligrams of potassium.
The best way to store portobellos is in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator, keeping them away from moisture. They’re best eaten within five days of purchase. To clean them, avoid running them under water. Rather, wipe them with a cloth or brush them lightly with a cooking brush to remove excess dirt. Ortega likes to scrape out the gills, especially when she’s stuffing the mushroom.
Grilled Portobello and Arugula Sandwich
Recipe by Marla Ortega of the Illium Café in Troy.
4 ciabatta rolls
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
4 large portobello mushroom caps
1 sweet or yellow onion, halved and sliced
1 tablespoon of blue cheese crumbles
2 roasted red peppers
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large pan or skillet (avoid the nonstick ones if you can help it). Add the onions and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring infrequently (that’s right, just relax and let them do their thing) until the onions are a deep golden-brown color, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
While the onions caramelize, clean the mushroom caps. On a cookie sheet, drizzle the mushrooms with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes until they have reduced in size a little bit and look “roasty toasty.”
Slice the ciabatta rolls in half, drizzle them with olive oil and lightly toast them in the oven.
On each roll, place crumbled cheese, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, 1 portobello cap and a fluff of arugula. Drizzle the arugula with balsamic vinegar and top with the next slice of ciabatta.
Pizza Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Recipe from University of Tennessee Extension.
1⁄2 pound hot bulk pork sausages
4 ounces mushrooms, chopped
1⁄4 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons sherry
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1⁄4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
4 portobello mushrooms
1⁄2 cup pizza sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
In a medium skillet, brown the sausage, chopped mushrooms and onion until sausage is no longer pink and the vegetables are tender. Add the sherry to the pan and cook until almost dry. Take off heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.
In a medium bowl, combine the oil and garlic. Turn the portobello mushrooms gill side up and scrape out the gills with a spoon and discard.
Dip the portobellos in the garlic oil and place on a baking sheet with the cup side up. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Spread about 2 tablespoons of pizza sauce in the mushroom cap, fill with sausage/vegetable mixture and top with mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the cheese is browned on top and the mushroom is tender.
Grilled Portobello Eggs Benedict
Recipe by Marla Ortega of the Illium Café in Troy.
4 portobello mushroom caps
1 tablespoon olive oil
1⁄4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
4 pieces crispy smoked bacon
2 tablespoons water
Freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons store-bought basil pesto
8 fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons
4 teaspoons freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat grill or grill pan and spray with cooking spray.
With a spoon, gently scrape out the dark inside of the mushroom caps, being careful not to break the caps. Brush both sides of the mushroom caps with oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill the mushrooms over medium-high heat for about 7 minutes per side, until they are tender and their juices begin to release. Transfer to a plate, top side down.
On the same grill or pan, cook the Canadian bacon over medium-high heat for 30 seconds on each side, until they are warm and grill marks have formed. Place 1 piece of the bacon into each of the mushroom caps.
Separate the whites of 4 of the eggs into a medium sized bowl, and discard the yolks. Add the remaining 4 whole eggs to the bowl with the whites, add the water and whisk until combined. Cook the eggs in a medium-sized nonstick skillet over a medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the eggs are done, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon 1⁄4 of the scrambled eggs on top of the Canadian bacon in each the mushroom caps. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of pesto over each and top with some basil ribbons and 1 teaspoon of Parmesan.