College Kitchen: Mushrooms

Take me to Fungi town.

Cecilia Mazumdar Stanger

Mushrooms, the bane of picky eaters at pizza parties, pack a savory, secret weapon: umami.

Umami is the rich, “meaty” flavor that comes about when glutamates are in food.

Though Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of the University of Tokyo studied and named “umami” more than a century ago, it only recently joined the ranks of the basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

It’s difficult to translate a Western, meat-and-potatoes plate into a vegetarian meal with enough protein. Meat’s indispensable savory quality is even more sought-after than its protein, hence the popularity of the “portabella burger.”

Fortunately, the umami flavor is not exclusive to flesh. The compound is present in soy sauce, seaweeds, cheeses, fungi and several vegetables, including tomatoes and potatoes.

 

Mushroom Gravy

 

A good mushroom gravy boasts a dark, rich quality without the fattiness of a meat-based sauce. This recipe uses umami-rich shiitake mushrooms (the enoki variety is also delicious) and is light enough to enjoy as a soup.

For a quicker preparation, leave out the onions. Briefly fry the mushrooms and replace the water with a cup of vegetable broth.

 

1 tablespoon oil

1 cup chopped onion

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms

1 cup sliced button or crimini mushrooms

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon vinegar

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 cup water

1 teaspoon cornstarch

 

1.     Cook the onions with oil and salt until they begin to caramelize (approximately 30 minutes on low heat.) Add the mushrooms to the skillet about 20 minutes into the cooking process. The mushrooms and onion should be fragrant and golden-brown.

2.     Combine the garlic, ginger and vinegar with 1/2 cup water — use this mixture to deglaze the pan.

3.     Bring the sauce to a simmer, and add soy sauce.

4.     Combine the cornstarch with 1/2 cup cold water, and add that mixture to the sauce. Simmer until the gravy thickens to the desired consistency. Add more soy sauce for saltier, darker gravy and additional cornstarch to thicken it further.

 

 

Garlicky Mushrooms

 

Pan fry mushrooms to avoid the slimy memories of childhood tastings. This preparation makes a crisp, savory topping for omelets and sandwiches.

 

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

8-ounce mushroom package

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon white wine (optional)

 

1.     Melt one tablespoon of butter in a skillet, and add cleaned, sliced mushrooms.

2.     Cook on medium heat until the mushrooms begin to shrink and crisp around the edges. Do not let the butter burn.

3.     Add the rest of the butter and the minced garlic to the pan. Gently cook until the garlic is soft and fragrant.

4.     Deglaze the pan with white wine or water.

5.     Salt the mushrooms to taste, and serve when most of the liquid has evaporated.