Why hello there, and welcome back once more to Kitchen Catastrophes Quick Tips, where today we’re wrapping up our discussion from last week about the mighty mushroom. Last week got heavily derailed by a half-baked inspirational message which I do still fully endorse, though I also acknowledge that it may not have been the time or place for such affirmation. Anyway, from that flawed foundation we sprang out into the mushroom’s etymology, taxonomy, and physical characteristics. All of which are ACTUALLY going to pay off in this post! Ha-HA! Well, all of them except taxonomy. I only included that because I hadn’t realized how many changes the accepted scientific structure of kingdoms had gone through, until I had to look up Protista.
But, the physical make-up AND etymology are both going to deliver today, as we discuss the culinary uses, varieties, and techniques most suitable for this secretive moss-dweller. As a somber side-note, I’d like to inform you all that the information gained for last week’s post was not without cost. In the intervening week since that post, I have in fact become mildly addicted to K-Pop, listening to a song at least every other day, and have begun learning the names of the MEMBERS of my preferred K-Pop bands. Your thoughts are appreciated in this trying time.
To be fair, the question "who listens to old men hanging around outside of caves?" is a valid one. Just saying, maybe if there were a better guard system, I wouldn't be in this hole.
Let’s move on, before my hands betray me, and I start a dissertation on the relative merits of BlackPink and Red Velvet. To the mushroom fields.
I Once Knew a Man who won a National Kite-Flying Contest. A Titan of Chitin, He Was.
Title Jon, I’m appalled at your punnery. Though, a fine illustration of how to pronounce Chitin, giving the clear rhyme of “Titan”. And your Cockney accent could use some work. Also, why have I only just now noticed that Cockney likes to utilize an object-subject-verb sentence order? That’s the rarest ordering of sentence structure in natural language, and Cockneys just PICKED IT UP? What, were they bumming opium drags off of YODA?
"The dragon, you must chase. Your mincers, close them. A shilling, it costs."
Sorry, I saw My Fair Lady for the first time last night, so I’ve got linguistics and the English on the mind. IT’s not mixing well with the K-Pop Fascination. Or the quart of instant Agua de Tamarindo I pounded last night. Or the air quality, which is terrible across the state right now. Or the little scratches I keep getting from the cat…Look, there’s a lot going on that’s probably screwing up separate and significant portions of me, but I gotta get this knocked out quick, because I agreed to cover a buddy’s shift because the shite air quality gave HIM pneumonia, and didn’t think about what that meant about the post until FAR too late. So, Chitin, huh, good God y’all. What is it good for?
Getting one lucky man residuals from every movie about Vietnam for the last 50 years?
Well, the chitin in mushrooms actually means quite a few things for them, culinarily speaking. Chitin is what gives mushrooms their signature “meaty” texture. The relative resilience of the chitinous cell walls creates that feeling of springiness or ‘chew’ that emulates the texture of proteins. So that’s nice.
Another thing the chitin does is make it super easy to not fuck up when cooking mushrooms! See, Chitin is highly heat-stable, meaning that it doesn’t actually react to heat as much as other compounds. This means that mushrooms will retain their structure at a much more consistent point for much longer. Like, if you steam a steak for 40 minutes, you’re a monster, obviously. For a multitude of reasons. But what your hideous crime against food would also do is create a piece of meat three times harder to bite through. Than one cooked for 5 minutes. Because proteins react to heat by tightening, making them firmer. By contrast, a piece of zucchini cooked like that would be functionally jelly, being five times EASIER to bite through. Mushrooms, though? Less than a 50% increase. Mushrooms are functionally the same at minute 10 of cooking as minute 50. And I know this because America’s Test Kitchen actually analyzed it. (What, did you think I picked steak and zucchini as examples randomly?)
Yes, but is it LEGAL tender?
So Mushrooms are basically impossible to overcook. But that doesn’t mean they’re impossible to cook WRONG. Let’s talk more about it, and how it connects to the etymological mysteries we uncovered last time.
What’s in a Name? A Hose By Any Other Name would Water Wheat.
Not really related, but sure. As we discussed last week, “fungus” is basically Latin misspelling the Greek for “sponge” and then hoping no one would notice. And that’s because at a lot of levels, depending on the variety, mushrooms are very sponge-esque. This is actually quite relevant for a variety of reasons related to their storage, prep, and cooking!
Firstly, storage, and it’s where the “mushrooms = sponges” discussion is actually weakest, because if sponges worked this way, they’d be voodoo magic. An important part of storing mushrooms is letting them “breathe”. This is important because mushrooms, like people, are mostly water. And once they’re cut, they start…”exhaling”, for lack of a better word. This is what causes them to become slimy: they’re basically slowing wringing themselves of their water, and it’s sticking to their surface. Special plastic films can help slow this process, by letting the water vapour out without letting other gases in. This is also why many businesses provide paper bags for storing mushrooms. Technically, the BEST place to keep them is in the plastic containers they’re shipped in, but failing that, a paper bag will do fine.
As shown here.
Though, to be honest, I don't know WHAT is being shown here. Did their CAR-dboard box break down? heh. I'll show myself out.
As to prep: while it’s wise to clean mushrooms before eating them, it’s LESS wise to do so with running water. Sponges will absorb a small amount of the water, making them take a little longer to cook. This isn’t the end of the world, as long as you were washing WHOLE mushrooms. The newly exposed and relatively dry interiors of the mushrooms will absorb a lot MORE water, making them take much longer to cook. Most places suggest just a dry small brush, or a damp paper towel is best, but, again, washing whole mushrooms will add…maybe 30 seconds of cooking time.
Lastly and most important, cooking: I’ve mentioned that it’s hard to overcook mushrooms, but where can you go wrong? That’s simple, my boys: by failing to respect the specialness of sponges! When frying or sautéing mushrooms, it’s important to remember that they’re roughly 80% water. Thus, when cooked, they’re going to exude it. This is important for 3 factors. Firstly, if you crowd the pan too much, they’re going to end up boiling/steaming in each other’s juices, which may not provide the texture or flavor you’re looking for. Speaking of flavor, point the second: the more liquid you have, the harder it’s going to be to brown them, meaning the more mushroomy and less complex they’re going to taste. Thirdly, it’s going to dictate, to a degree, your cooking temp: if you’re not cooking hot enough, you’re not going to boil off those liquids to get that browning. Mushrooms, therefore, should always be cooked at a medium or higher stove-top temp, to get proper liquid removal and browning.
A "proper Browning", in my opinion, is a film that needs at least two unnecessary musical interludes, or a TV show with at least 1 brutal murder.
The last element that the mushroom’s spongy nature creates in culinary situations is the sauciest. Literally, it’s the one about sauces and stews. See, once you’ve driven the liquids OUT of the mushrooms, you can get them to at least partly absorb whatever new liquids you ADD to them. Butter and oil are common, letting the mushrooms get rich and luscious, or maybe you’ll toss the sautéed shrooms straight into a stew, to sop up the broth. It’s another reason we’re so loathe to leave our fungal friend behind, as he’s so willing to change to suit our needs, absorbing flavors and adding meatiness when meat can’t be had.
A Mish-Mash of Mush
And those are the primary elements of mushrooms as a food. By which I mean, “the absolute fucking basics”. I mean, we spent, what, almost 3,000 words, and we didn’t even talk about the VARIETIES of mushrooms. Though, for a fun fact, I will repeat a facet of fungal lore that I’ve always found fascinating: there’s probably a couple fewer “varieties” of mushrooms than you think. Or, rather, there’s probably a lot MORE than you think, but a couple that you think of don’t really count. See, the three MAJOR varieties of mushroom, your White Buttons, Criminis, and Portobellos? They’re the same thing. White Mushrooms are just an albino variant of criminis, and criminis are just young portobellos. (You may have even seen them packaged as “baby bella\os” before.) They do have differences in taste and texture, as breeding plants for looks always alters their flavor. (I’m looking at you, TOMATOES.) But they are the same species.
A slowly swelling species. Kinda like The Blob.
And that wraps our fungal foundation for now. No doubt I’ll revisit the topic someday, introduce the many mushrooms varieties that we sadly couldn’t here, but this is a foundation. It’s something to build off of. I hope it helps some wonderful ideas bloom. Or…whatever “blooming” is for mushrooms. Encapping? I looked it up, it’s bloom. Mushrooms bloom. Mystery averted.
If you’ve got a brass nickel to spare to let Jon buy some Pocky and keep jamming with his Korean crooners in a flawed understanding of Asian culture, feel free to flick it our way over on Patreon. IF you or someone you know could benefit from learning a thing or two about how to cook some shrooms, however, you should share this post, or invite them to like our facebook page so they can see it!
MONDAY: NOTHING IS GOING RIGHT, SO HOPEFULLY I GET TO MAKE SOME FUCKING FRIED ZUCCHINI BLOSSOMS, BUT I HAVE TO FIT A (POTENTIAL) DOCTOR’S VISIT, A WORK DAY, A GROCERY RUN, AND A BIRTHDAY INTO THE NEXT 24 HOURS, SO THINGS ARE GONNA GET TIGHT.
NEXT THURSDAY: I THINK IT’S CLEAR FROM THE ABOVE STATEMENT THAT I HAVE NO PLAN.