Oyster Mushroom
Photo by Donna

Donna got these from the mushroom man at our farmers market because they entranced her. But what to do once she's had her way with them?!

Much depends on the mushroom. Big meaty fat cepes and chanterelles are excellent roasted. The coolest looking mushroom, the morel, likes soft heat and a creamy environment. These are varieties the forager Connie Green calls "act of God mushrooms," mushrooms that appear from out of nowhere, mushrooms that must be stalked.

But for cultivated mushrooms, which is what most of us work with, everyday mushrooms, I always go with really high heat—a smoking hot pan, plenty of neutral oil. Most cultivated mushrooms—the ubiquitous white button, oyster mushrooms (above), shiitakes—don't have a big flavor on their own.  It's up to the cook to elevate that flavor. You do this by browning the mushroom, and you can only accomplish this at a temperature that's so hot, the moisture in the fungus doesn't have time to start falling out.  Once that happens, as soon as water gets into the pan, the temperature drops to 212 degrees and you can't get any more browning. All you get is lots more moisture. Another way to drop the temperature of your pan is to put too many mushrooms in it. The key to really tasty mushrooms is high heat and not crowding the pan.

I salt immediately upon putting them in the pan then add minced shallot . Mushrooms cooked this way can be chilled and reheated gently in butter.  Pepper them and give them a small squeeze of lemon to finish. If you can find good mushrooms like the ones above, simply prepared and served with some crusty baguette, they can be a meal in themselves. They also make a fantastic, sauce-like accompaniment to roasted chicken or veal or asparagus.

Other ways to vary them are to deglaze the pan with some white wine after you've got a nice sear on the mushrooms. A pinch of curry powder can  heighten their flavor—not so much that you can taste the curry, add just enough to intrigue. Add whole cloves of garlic and fresh thyme to the oil just before you saute mushrooms, and they'll pick up these aromatic flavors.  Mushrooms add a depth and savoriness to eggs, vegetables, meat and fish—great on their own when well cooked, and they're a powerful way to add flavors to other foods.

Cooking them well is all it takes. Eric Ripert still remembers the oyster mushrooms when he was a young cook at Robuchon's 3-star Jamin. He had to cook each one individually to get that perfect sear. That's what it takes, that's what makes the difference.