5 Tips for How To Brown Mushrooms

Got this tip from Twitter. Original post can be found here as part of this Bacon Mushroom Soup recipe

Looking over these tips I was surprised to see the admonition not to salt the Mushrooms before cooking. I always did thinking I was helping the browning process by drawing the moisture out first.

  • Clean.  Mushrooms, as fungi, are susceptible to soaking up moisture quickly – and the goal of caramelizing is to remove the moisture and brown the fats; so extra moisture is the opposite of what you want.  When you clean your mushrooms, use the least amount of water possible (think pulsing your sprayer, while gently tossing your mushrooms in a colander) and wipe them dry with a paper towel.  Wiping them with the towel will also help remove any excess dirt or residue.
  • Even.  When you go to cut your mushrooms make sure to cut them into even slices or pieces so that they all finish around the same time.  (No one wants to fish out burnt pieces while others are just starting to cook, right?)
  • Batches.  Don’t be afraid to work in batches.  Overcrowding is the enemy of caramelization, no matter what you’re cooking.  Give your mushrooms plenty of space and try to avoid overlap.  A large pan with a lot of surface area that conducts heat well will help with this as well.
  • Fat.  Caramelization is the process of heat cooking fat – so to get a good deep golden-brown color, you want to make sure to use some sort of fat – like butter, olive oil, or bacon grease.  Also, you’ll probably need more than you think, so either be prepared to add an extra tablespoonful now and then, or just start with a generous supply. Don’t worry, the mushrooms won’t absorb much of the fat, so long as you’re using the correct temperature (similar to deep-frying).
  • Patience.  This is the hardest one for everyone (even me).  We want to move the food around in our pan too much – but the more we move the food around, the more it changes the temperature of our pan surface and sets back your caramelization time.  Resisting the urge to move around our food is almost as hard as taking a compliment – but you can do it. I have faith in you!
  • Heat.  Mushrooms are over 80% water, so when they cook they are going to release some of that water into the pan. This means that if your mushrooms are too close or too overcrowded, you’ll end up steaming them instead of sautéing; Don’t fret!  If you have your pan nice and hot (at least medium-high heat) before you add your mushrooms in, that will help cook out the water quickly while getting a beautiful brown hue.
  • Sizzle.  Cooking (like eating) is a multi-sensory experience.  You want to hear a constant sizzling while you’re cooking your mushrooms, from the moment they hit the pan to when you’re ready to remove them.  If the sizzle dies out, turn up the heat or add a little more fat to make sure you’re encouraging caramelization.
  • Salt.  As a rule of thumb, the only thing you should ever salt before cooking is meat (although there are always exceptions), and the same applies here.  When salt is applied to mushrooms before cooking, it starts to pull the moisture out of the mushroom which makes it more likely you’ll end up steaming it, or have water-logged mushrooms that refuse to brown.
  • Flip.  The larger you cut your mushrooms the easier this job is, but I highly recommend using a pair of tongs to make sure that you get both sides evenly caramelized without breaking the patience rule.

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