I am a huge fan of Julia Child. I read Mastering the Art of French Cooking like a novel, repeatedly. I have several seasons of The French Chef on DVD. And although I don’t have a drop of French blood in my body, I happily claim to be a Francophile. So when it comes to cooking, I follow Julia’s words of wisdom very closely. I have, however, learned some tricks of my own.
When sautéing mushrooms, Julia will pound the table with her fist while instructing you not to crowd the pan. The mushrooms will not caramelize properly if they are lumped in willy-nilly, with no care to their need to breathe and lay comfortably against the bottom of the pan. I don’t suppose fanning them gently with palm fronds would be out of the question, either. Unfortunately, I do not have a pan big enough to cook a pound of mushrooms with enough room to stretch their legs and not elbow their neighbor. I do have a medium-sized pan where I can make a large pile of mushrooms – we’ll call them the low-rent mushrooms.
Now it is possible to achieve beautiful, caramelized mushrooms in a crowded pan. But there is a trick. First, I’d recommend (as would Julia) using an entire stick of butter per pound of mushrooms. This is not for the faint of heart – or anyone with a heart, really. But bear with me. Melt the butter over moderate-high heat until the foam subsides and starts to brown. Then throw in your sliced mushrooms. Now here comes the tricky part. You must walk away. I will repeat myself – you must walk away. If you’re like me, it’s terribly hard to resist talking to your food, coaxing it to bubble and froth in happy abandon. But trust me - take a stroll outside or paint your living room. Once you add the mushrooms to the pan, don’t mess with them. Cook them until you can smell that they’re cooked. This is something that may require some practice for a novice cook. If there is billowing black smoke and it smells like you’re burning tires, they may have cooked a little too long. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea, now that I’m thinking, to have extra butter and mushrooms nearby. We’ll call them homeless mushrooms.
Once you’ve honed your olfactory senses to detect that perfect, nutty aroma, feel free to re-enter your kitchen. Take a peek at one of the mushrooms on the bottom of the pile – it should be a dark golden brown. Now stir, allowing the mushrooms at the top of the pile to fall to the bottom, and walk away again. Reorganize your CD collection by genre instead of alphabetically. When you again catch a whiff of that tantalizing smell, return to the kitchen and add whatever your heart desires. I prefer a good cup of port or dry sherry (for steak), marsala or cream sherry (for chicken), madeira (for pork) vermouth (for seafood) and tons of green onions, garlic and fresh parsley. Serve over your favorite grilled food – I’d recommend grilling or steaming because frying may cause your arteries to pack up and move to a safer environment. Now sit back and relax; enjoy sitting in your freshly painted house while watching your husband fumble about looking for his favorite CD.
Side note: For other wives with helpful husbands, you may need to lock them in the garage while preparing these mushrooms. While I was in the recipe testing phase of this article, my husband often wandered into the kitchen and stirred the mushrooms in an effort to be helpful. It wasn’t until he would walk back into the family room and see the look on my face that he would freeze like a deer in headlights – probably in the hopes I wouldn’t see him if he didn’t move.
For an off-the-hook steak sauce, try Ree’s Burgundy Mushroom Sauce.