For many of us, buying mushrooms probably means picking up a cling-wrapped back of little white button-types you find in the grocery store that have about as much flavor as dirt-infused styrofoam. They're a filler food, tossed in salads or layered on burgers just to say there’s one more thing on there. But mushrooms are one of those foods that almost shouldn’t be lumped into one category. The first time I really "got" mushrooms I ate homegrown shiitakes simply sauteed in butter, and I was convinced there had to be meat or MSG or something else in there. Nope, just mushrooms, but done the right way.
Chef Billy Parisi says the first step to cooking well with mushrooms is to understand the different flavor profiles, and pair them with the dish. "White button mushrooms, the most common, have a fairly mild flavor," he says. "Both crimini and portabella mushrooms have a unique meaty/earthy taste to them. Similar in flavor to criminis and portabellas, shiitake mushrooms are richer. Oyster mushrooms have a mild delicate flavor and an almost sweet-woodsy taste to them." If you’ve got the time and the expertise, you can always forage for your own, but the farmer’s market is where you’ll probably get the best and freshest variety. As for how to tell what you’re getting is good, it’s pretty simple–just make sure they look good. "Fresh mushrooms should be firm to the touch without any dark blemishes or discoloration on the cap or the stem. They should also be dry, but not dried out."
Both buttons and criminis can be eaten raw, but if you’re going to cook them, you probably need to cook them down more, as the most flavor gets released only when their natural sugars start caramelizing. This can be done either by sauteing or roasting, but have patience, since making sure they’ve really caramelized can take a long time.
Parisi has another technique for utilizing mushrooms as filler, by caramelizing them, blending them, and mixing them in with ground meat. "By doing this you enhance the dish with mushrooms’ umami flavors, cut calories, and add more nutrients. I'm a firm believer that it makes your ground meat recipe so much juicier and tender as well." It can also be a good method for making making a little meat go a long way. That blend can be utilized in everything from burgers to tacos to meatloaf to pasta sauce. You may not even know you’re eating mushrooms, though after mastering how to cook them, hiding them may be the last thing you want.
Billy Parisi’s Mushroom, Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onion Burger
For the Burger
- 2 pounds of 85/15 ground sirloin
- 1 cup of cremini mushrooms
- 1 cup of domestic mushrooms
- soy sauce to taste
- Worcestershire to taste
- Tabasco to taste
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil, or bacon fat drippings from the cooked bacon
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
For the Toppings
- 2 thickly sliced sweet onions
- 1 teaspoon of unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- blue cheese crumbles
- 8 crispy cooked bacon strips
- cooked onion rings (my version is here)
- 8 slices of mozzarella cheese
- 4 toasted brioche buns
- Caramelized onions: In a large sauté pan on medium high heat add in the butter and caramelize the onions until golden brown. Add in the sugar to help brown. Note: May take up to 30 to 40 minutes to caramelize.
- Preheat the grill to high (450° to 550°).
- Burger: Add the mushrooms to a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the pureed mushrooms to a large bowl and thoroughly mix together with the ground sirloin, soy sauce, Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt and pepper. Form 8 patties with your hands and set on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
- Brush the burgers with the olive oil, season them lightly with salt and pepper, and add them to the grill oiled side down. Once they are on the grill brush the other side with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown grill marks have been formed or to your desired internal temperature have been achieved.
- To keep the flames down use ice cubes were fire is consuming the burger to help tone down the flames and smoke.
- Toast the brioche buns on the grill for 2 minutes until crispy.
- To serve: place 1 cooked burger patty down on the brioche bun followed up with a slice of mozzarella cheese and then repeat the process again. Add on 2 tablespoons of the caramelized onions, 2 strips of bacon, and then 1 tablespoon of the blue cheese crumbles. Top it off with a few cooked onions rings, and then of course the top of the bun. Enjoy!