The Champion Champignon

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By Heidi Lewis

A mushroom walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Oh, we don’t serve your kind in here.” The mushroom replies, “What’s the matter? I’m a fun-gi!” Portobello mushrooms are among the fun vegetable characters in your TakeHome box this week. It’s unlikely that a portobello would be kicked out of any bar or restaurant. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, dishes with portobello can be your savior where there are only meat choices on the menu. The robust portobello stands up to any steakhouse fare—loved by those who don’t love meat, and loved by those who do.

Portobello (Agaricus bisporus) is the big brother to the common little cremini mushrooms. Cremini are really immature portobellos—in Italian, portobello del bambino. Commercially available mushrooms are cultivated in controlled environments these days, although the spores of the portobello could once be found growing wild in Europe and North America. Sterilized spawn was discovered and produced by the Pasteur Institute of Paris in 1893—another piece connecting table mushrooms to the amazing infrastructure of nature that we depend on. A mushroom is the fruit of mycelium. As Paul Stamets describes in his wonderful book, Mycelium Running—How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, “mycelium are the neurological network of nature.”

The portobello is a culinary hero—easy to cook, low in calories, and nutritious. Chef Thomas Keller slices the portobello partly through on the bottom gill side so it makes a filleted piece. It can also be scored on the top cap for a crisscross grilled “steak” look. For even more flavor, cook the mighty cap in the company of abundant onions, garlic, and herbs. Served with greens and flavorful cheese, portobello mushrooms make for a satisfying meal. Like the cow said, “Portobello: It’s what’s for dinner.”

Preparation: Avoid washing mushrooms before preparing; ideally they should be gently brushed with a moist paper towel or soft-bristled brush. To grill or sauté, brush the mushroom with oil and grill for 5 minutes on each side or bake for about 20 minutes.

Storage: Store mushrooms in the fridge where they won’t be crushed or bruised. Place in a paper bag or tray covered with a dry paper towel to promote air circulation. Don’t let them get moist, and use within a few days.


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