In The Kitchen

Sautéed mushrooms: A versatile ingredient for holiday fare

By Lucy Herrman
Posted 12/19/19

The year-end holidays are one of the busiest times for most of us. We prepare and plan for all sorts of get-togethers, from intimate gatherings to full-on crowds. An elegant holiday sit-down affair with Grandma's china. Or the whole clan for a gala help-yourself buffet feast. Maybe a holiday open house, with festive cocktails and fancy hors d'oeuvres. Some years, we might host all three.

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In The Kitchen

Sautéed mushrooms: A versatile ingredient for holiday fare

Posted

The year-end holidays are one of the busiest times for most of us. We prepare and plan for all sorts of get-togethers, from intimate gatherings to full-on crowds. An elegant holiday sit-down affair with Grandma's china. Or the whole clan for a gala help-yourself buffet feast. Maybe a holiday open house, with festive cocktails and fancy hors d'oeuvres. Some years, we might host all three.

In this hectic season, having a recipe for a multifunctional key ingredient in your back pocket can help tremendously in planning your menus. You cook the main ingredient, and then you use it in several ways. You have much less work, yet come away with versatile results. One of my favorite go-to base recipes is for sautéed mushrooms.

Recently I found fresh chanterelles - those rare and usually costly trumpet-shaped mushrooms - at the market. The opportunity to use them in my recipes was impossible to resist, so I indulged and bought 2 pounds. The truth is, though, any combination of mushrooms will work for this series of recipes, including large portobello and small white and brown button mushrooms characteristically found at any grocery store.

Mushrooms are the fundamental element for the dishes in this article -- two main courses and two appetizers. The secret, as I mentioned, lies in the central ingredient recipe. I started with 2 pounds of chanterelles. But if you are using regular mushrooms, I would increase that amount to 3 pounds to ensure you have a sufficient quantity of this superbly versatile base ingredient. Either way, the initial sautéing of a larger than usual quantity of mushrooms brings out and deeply concentrates the flavor.

With chanterelles, I use a small stiff paintbrush to gently brush them clean of grit. Then I swish them in a bowl of water and place them on kitchen towels to dry. When dry, I slice them lengthwise to emphasize their trumpetlike shape.

Large chanterelles can be the size of my hand; those I cut in half, then turn on their sides to slice thin slivers, retaining the trumpet shape as much as possible. Small mushrooms tend to stay whole or are cut in half. If there are tough stem pieces, I cut them off and save them for making broth later.

Regular mushrooms need less work to clean. You may have heard that washing mushrooms is unnecessary. But I like to swish them in a bowl of water to remove any hidden dirt that might cling to them. I pat them dry, trim the stems, then slice them from top to bottom. You can buy them presliced (I still recommend washing them), but I prefer working with them whole.

For sautéing, mince one or two large shallots -- you'll want to end up with at least 1/4-1/3 cup at the end. Melt 4-8 tablespoons of butter in your largest skillet over medium low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Do not brown the shallots. Add the sliced mushrooms and stir to coat them all in butter. Turn the heat to low and cook them, stirring once in a while, for 10-20 minutes. They will give up a splendid liquid, and then reabsorb it.

When the pan is dry, add 1/2 cup white wine and some salt. Continue to sauté until almost all the liquid is gone, about 5-10 minutes. When they are perfectly cooked they will be a deep rich color and glistening. Total cooking time is 20-30 minutes.

Once you taste them, you will be delighted with their transformation into one to the most splendid, even decadent, things you have ever savored.

Now, to make several dishes from these mushrooms, divide the quantity in three parts. At this point, you can place them in plastic freezer bags and refrigerate for up to three days. Or if you are working ahead, it is OK to freeze them for up to a month or more.

One-third of the cooked mushrooms is earmarked for Easy Mushroom Risotto. The next third of the mushroom mixture goes to creating a luxurious Pasta with Mushroom Cream Sauce. The final third is reserved for the filling of an exquisite appetizer, Mushroom Tartlets.

Let's start with the Easy Mushroom Risotto. Risotto is a dish that usually involves stirring, adding broth, and waiting for the rice to absorb the liquid before adding more and repeating for some 45 minutes. My easy version utilizes already cooked al dente rice, then adding butter and broth to recreate the creaminess of traditional risotto. Once warmed sufficiently, fold in the mushrooms and add more broth as needed. Then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley before serving.

You will end up with enough risotto for at least 8-10 people. But if you're not serving that many, you will have some left over. Make 1-inch balls out of the leftover risotto, roll them in panko breadcrumbs and freeze on trays. Then place them in plastic freezer bags until needed. Simply bake them until brown for a delicious and attractive appetizer.

The Pasta with Mushroom Cream could not be more simple. Cook and drain the pasta and set aside. Here is where having previously sautéed mushrooms makes things quick and easy. Simply melt butter in a large skillet and reheat the sautéed mushrooms. Pour in a generous cupful of cream. Gently warm over low heat until just bubbly, then add the pasta. Stir to coat completely, garnish with parsley and freshly ground pepper and serve immediately. Pass the Parmesan at the table.

And, finally, Tiny Mushroom Tartlets. Made in minimuffin pans, they are an elegant and savory appetizer. To make them, roll out pie dough and cut into 3-inch circles. Press the circles into the greased muffin tins. Put in the fridge to chill while you are making the filling.

Finely chop about half the remaining sautéed mushrooms. Whisk together eggs, milk and seasonings in a medium bowl and mix in the chopped mushrooms. Using a small scoop, place a bit of the mixture into each prepared tartlet shell. (If you don't have enough filling, chop more of the sautéed mushrooms and mix with additional egg and milk.)

Bake and serve hot at your holiday cocktail party. Be sure to taste one, because these do not last long once served. Or, if making ahead, half-bake, cool and freeze the tartlets in their pans for a later occasion.

And finally, on the off chance you have not used all the remaining mushrooms in the tartlet filling, you can always add them to a holiday soup. Of course, if you do not need another dish right now, pop them in the freezer and enjoy them another day.

Bon appétit!

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