There’s something Lucas Sin wants you to know: Water and mushrooms aren’t enemies.
“A lot of us have been told that when you process your mushrooms—when you cook them—they’re not allowed to touch a single drop of water,” says Lucas in a recent episode of Why it Works. “But in my experience, I found that not to be correct.” Not only is water not the enemy, he argues—it’s actually the key to extracting the most flavor out of your fungi.
“Mushrooms, because of their cell structure and the way this fungus is set up, in between all these fibers are big air pockets that are filled with air and, eventually, whatever liquid that it comes into contact with,” says Lucas. “That’s a lot of the reason why some people say [not to] soak them in water.”
Generally, the advice is to cook dry mushrooms directly in fat to create that ever-desired sear. But the downside of that technique is that the mushrooms quickly absorb all the oil or butter in the pan, prompting you to add more and more. “What ends up happening is these mushroom sponges soak up all that oil, and then you get sort of a bit of a greasy mess,” says Lucas.
His technique is sort of a reversal of this common wisdom. Lucas begins by washing his prepped mushrooms—in this case, a mix of shiitake, portobello, and oyster—in a bowl of water. (“We’re washing these mushrooms with water, which is so sacrilegious to…many people who went to culinary school,” says Lucas. “First of all, I did not go to culinary school, and second of all, I am not a Western chef, so I don’t know about those rules.”)
After washing them, Lucas puts the mushrooms in a wok (a skillet works, too) and adds enough water to cover them. Then, he simply turns on the heat, brings them to a boil, seasons them with salt, and cooks them for about 15 minutes. The goal? To saturate the mushrooms completely with water and reduce any remaining liquid in the pan.
“All we’re doing here is capitalizing on the deliciousness that’s already in the mushrooms and trying to amplify them,” Lucas says. “It’s, like, the essence of a mushroom.”
Once the liquid has pretty much disappeared from the pan, there’s “a very small window, when the mushrooms are still saturated with liquid, to add oil before it burns.”
Once the oil is in, the mushrooms will start to sizzle and “build that nice caramelized crust that we’ve been missing because we’ve been boiling it.” Following the oil, Lucas adds thinly sliced scallion and garlic, which cook in those final few moments. To create a little bit of a sauce, he adds a touch more water to the pan, which gives the mushrooms a glazed finish. That’s it: Transfer your mushrooms to a serving platter or bowl and enjoy.
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Have you tried cooking your mushrooms using this technique? Tell us how it went in the comments!