Jim Dixon wrote about food for WW for more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at his olive oil-focused specialty food business Wellspent Market. Jim’s always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We’re happy to have him back creating some special dishes just for WW readers.
Here’s the problem with mushrooms: They’re mostly water. When you cook them in a skillet with olive oil or butter, their water combines with the fat, and the soupy liquid makes it hard to achieve a crispy texture. And that golden-brown sear is the perfect complement to the fungi’s load of umami.
I learned how to make mushrooms crispy from the best foraging guide ever: David Arora’s 1991 book All That the Rain Promises and More… He called it the “dry sauté,” and it’s brilliantly simple. Put the mushrooms in a pan, turn on the heat and cook the water out before you add the flavorful fat. He used the method on mushrooms like the rain-soaked chanterelles. You might find on a typical fall foraging day, and while it works for almost any mushrooms, it’s perfect for the button mushrooms sold at the grocery store.
Known to mycologists as Agaricus bisporus, they’re the most commonly eaten mushrooms in the world. Farmers started cultivating them back in the 1700s, but it wasn’t until Louis Pasteur demonstrated the benefits of sterilization in the late 1800s when mushroom growing really took off using pathogen-free cultures.
So instead of wandering through the forest hoping to find mushrooms at exactly the right time of year, I just buy them at the supermarket. If your favorite produce section offers both white and brown mushrooms, get the white ones since they’re usually cheaper. A mycologist farmer found a mutant white Agaricus in 1925, and since white food was considered superior by the slightly wacky nutritionist movement of the era, they became a hit. Most of the white mushrooms sold today descend from that original mutant, but the brown Agaricus are better sellers and fetch a higher price. Once cooked, you can’t tell them apart.
1 pound mushrooms, white or brown
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Wash mushrooms in the sink. Despite the admonition that they soak up water, they don’t.
Cut each cap into 3 or 4 slices, or chop coarsely, depending on the intended use. Put them into a dry skillet, preferably cast iron, and add salt (it helps draw out moisture). The pan may look too full, but as the water cooks off the mushrooms get smaller.
Cook over medium-high heat, tossing often to expose all the pieces to the heat at the bottom of the pan. The moisture will start coming out of the mushrooms right away, and if they’re particularly wet, you may see a layer of liquid. Press down with the spatula if you like to hear the squeak and sizzle of the mushrooms drying out.
Continue cooking until the liquid has completely evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add oil, and cook for another 5 minutes or longer, stirring occasionally.