Saturday, October 24, 2009

Consider the...portobello mushroom

In my limited study of human nature, I have found that when it comes to mushrooms, there are three types of people: those that are essentially mushroom-phobic and won't try any kind (Vronsky, I am talking about you), those that love mushrooms, any sort, any preparation, and then there are those that like them when the mood strikes, but still l-o-v-e portobello mushrooms.

I myself fall squarely into that third category. I like button and shiitake's in a stir-fry or at a restaurant where obviously they are integral to a chef's vision of a dish, but I don't seek them out of my own volitions, with one big exception: the large, steak-y, flavorful portobellos.

Portobellos are really just large "crimini" or brown mushrooms. When they mature and grow nice and large (approx 4-6 inches in diameter), they are call portobellos. When they are babies, they are simply called brown mushrooms.

Yet something happens when these "criminis"mature. Their flavor becomes much more intense, giving us a rich, earthy flavor with a firm texture that makes portobellos so popular.

They are excellent in polenta, and I've had portobello fajitas, which were excellent. You can bake them and stuff them with couscous, onions, and perhaps a bit of celery, or quarter them and put them on a kebab alongside red, yellow, orange and green peppers and onions (a good way to please any vegetarians who might be attending your cook out).

Portobellos are rich in potassium, vitamin B, protein, and amino acids, yet low in calorie and fat-free. And don't even get me started on the all of the "magic" powers mushrooms in general are supposed to possess. From Chinese grandmas (who know everything about this sort of thing) to hippies and alternative healing gurus (who know less, in my opinion, but can be right from time to time), mushrooms are where it's at. They've been touted as "anti-cancer" and even my stupidly expensive Yves Saint Laurent eye cream purports to have an extract of some special Chinese mushroom that will help keep those pesky little eye wrinkles at bay. This remains to be seen. If only I could find this special mushroom and eat it (sauteƩd with some olive oil and garlic no less), imagine the wonders!

And besides, it is way more fun to eat and prepare mushrooms than to rub it on your face. Ew.

To wit, here is my favorite way to prepare portobellos. It is not terribly elaborate, but easy to do with limited resources and a tiny kitchen.

Take two portobellos and lightly wash them. Top chefs and gourmets say all you need to do is shake them to loosen any lingering dirt and debris, but living in NYC, where odd germs and pathogens coat every part of this fair city, a wash can never go amiss. Don't scrub too hard though, or you'll loose flavor.

Slice into about 3/4 inch horizontal pieces. Toss in a large bowl with about two pinches of sugar, one part soy sauce, 3 parts olive oil, and a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar. Mince a clove of garlic and toss in.

When slices are completely covered, let sit while you heat a pan greased with more olive oil. When it is hot, toss in and start to sauteƩ, Keep tossing and when the slices start to "blacken" in towards the center, do one more good go round in the pan, and then remove. The slices will continue to cook once removed from the heat.

Serve with a starch of your choice (I like rice as it will mop up that black portobello suace nicely), and for show, put the mushroom slices on long leaves of romaine lettuce. You can make lettuce wraps with them, and it is actually quite tasty.


  1. Yummy post, dear JJ!

    That mushroom sauce the other night at Water Street Grill has tempted me to try some more veggies in this vein. Lead the way, my dear.

    Let's also try that dark and elegant place you saw today.....

    Yours, as ever,


  2. Hey there Gastro Jess,

    I love this blog!

    Haven't posted much but I read it all the time. I've also been steered toward some excellent food.

    Keep 'em coming....


    An admirer

  3. Thanks for the post! Always nice to hear from a "fan," and thrilled to hear you've discovered some new things from the blog :)