What’s the perfect garnish for your one-half-inch-thick choice steak? Why sautéed mushrooms, of course. Mushrooms are the secret ingredient behind every great omelet; they add that special touch to even the most pedestrian sandwich. For an inexpensive dish that will live up to the elegance of the Dom Perignon you’re drinking, try sautéed mushrooms on toast.

The key to sautéing mushrooms perfectly is understanding that not all mushrooms are the same. A Portobello mushroom or a handful of delicate chanterelles requires very different handling than half a pound of criminis (the common supermarket variety mushroom.) When cooked incorrectly, mushrooms can be a slimy, tasteless horror. But follow the simple instructions below and your mushrooms will be perfectly delicious every time.

Sautéed Crimini Mushrooms

A few things to keep in mind before you start cooking: First, sautéed mushrooms need to be served as soon as they come out of the pan, so you need to time the rest of your meal preparation accordingly. Second, properly sautéed mushrooms lose about half their size in the cooking process so you must plan your portion sizes accordingly.

Before you cook your mushrooms, you will have to clean them. Never, ever soak a mushroom in water! Mushrooms are extremely porous; they will absorb water when soaked, and lose their firm texture. The best way to clean a mushroom is to blot the dirt off it with a dampened paper towel. (For those who enjoy kitchen gadgets, there are also vegetable brushes specially designed for a mushroom’s nooks and crannies.)

Next add a small amount of butter or oil – no more than two tablespoons – to a saucepan, and begin heating over medium or high medium heat. While the oil is heating, remove the mushrooms’ stems and slice to approximately 1/8-inch thickness.

Test the oil before you add the mushrooms by wetting your fingers and tossing the excess drops into the oil: if it’s hot enough for your mushrooms, you should hear a sizzle. Add the mushrooms, making sure to toss them continuously as you cook. There is no set time limit for cooking. Mushrooms are done when they turn a golden brown caramelized color.

Sautéing Portobello Mushrooms

Portobello mushrooms are really just oversized brown criminis. As with their smaller cousins, you will want to clean them before you cook them; you will also want to remove the mushrooms gills with a paring knife. You can sauté Portobello caps whole, or you can slice them into ½ inch to ¾ inch pieces. Prep the mushrooms by rubbing them in oil (or melted butter) and garlic, salt or pepper to taste before adding them to the skillet.

The longer you cook a Portobello, the meatier its texture becomes. Optimal cooking time is two to three minutes on each side, and then an additional two minutes.

Portobellos taste particularly delicious when sautéed in flavored oils: hazelnut oil is a particular favorite. If you are sautéing them in butter, try adding a splash of white wine.

Sautéing Chanterelle Mushrooms

Chanterelle mushrooms are a common ingredient in Asian as well as European cuisines. They are the most popular wild mushroom, although increasingly you are also able to find them in supermarkets. Chanterelle mushrooms’ aroma and flavor is fruitier than that of criminis.

Chanterelles are either black or gold in color with fleshy, wavy caps and widely spaced gills that make cleaning them a challenge. A nylon mushroom brush is highly recommended for this purpose. Gently brush beneath the gills while holding the mushroom under a slow tap but remember: do not allow the mushroom to soak! Cleaned chanterelles can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Chanterelles are best sautéed in butter – the richer and creamier, he better! Add half and half or chicken broth to bring out the full complement of delicate, chewy taste. Cut them into large hunks to retain flavor. Chanterelles don’t do much for steak, but they are a perfect accompaniment to pork or chicken.

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