I’ve always been interested in cooking, and even as a child, I liked to experiment with cooking techniques and ingredients on a regular basis. My brother and I were latchkey kids toward the end of elementary school, and like most students, we were ravished by the time we got home in the afternoon. But rather than grab a frozen pizza pocket or a cereal bar, we often cooked ourselves something. Looking back on it now as a parent, I’m amazed our parents allowed such a thing to happen because as much importance I place on teaching kids to cook at an early age, I would flip my lid if I knew my twelve year-old was using my stove while I was gone.
Maybe my parents trusted us more than I trust my son, although I’m fairly sure they shouldn’t have. A more likely explanation is that they just didn’t know what we were doing. Regardless, we were pretty handy with the frying pan, and one of our favorite things to cook was sauteed mushrooms. Of course, growing up in northern Maine, we were limited to canned mushrooms, nowadays one of the banes of my culinary existence. But we didn’t know any better at the time–we probably didn’t get fresh mushrooms into the grocery store with any regularity until 1992–and we liked to fry them up in butter with garlic powder, salt, and pepper until they were deeply caramelized and almost crispy. Then we just ate them. Just like that…and usually right out of the pan.
I still love mushrooms to this day, and although I’ve definitely eschewed the canned variety in favor of fresh, I still appreciate the deep flavors that come from their correct preparation, and I find that mushrooms are particularly well-suited to Asian-style dishes. Their neutral, earthy flavor perfectly balances the strong flavors of Asian cuisine such as ginger, soy and citrus. Because they’re so low in sugar, the only way you can get the meaty flavor of a well-caramelized mushroom is by the use of fat. The good news is that mushrooms don’t contain any fat themselves, and they’re so low in calories that adding some fat to their preparation still yields a healthy final product. And that’s the perfect excuse to use one of my favorite Asian ingredients, sesame oil.
I developed my recipe for Grilled Mushrooms with Sesame Seeds as an appetizer. Marinated, grilled and simply layered on a serving platter sprinkled with chives and sesame seeds, they’re a great option for your vegetarian or calorie-conscious dinner guests, and they’re certainly not going to alienate the carnivores. But as an accompaniment to a grilled steak or even as an element of a warm or cold pasta dish, their complex flavor and firm texture can’t be beat.
The marinade is the key to this recipe. Mushrooms are sponges, so it was important to make sure that any liquid I added to the recipe serve as pure flavor else I dilute the taste of the final product. Low-sodium soy sauce is the base, and combined with the ginger, sweet sherry and sesame flavors, the vibe is definitely Japanese. You can marinade all kinds of stuff in this recipe. Try lightly coating shrimp in it and let them marinate for 20 minutes before cooking or use it as a light glaze on your salmon or pork chops. If you’re sticking to mushrooms and you’re not in the mood to grill, you can broil the mushrooms 6” from the element for 3-4 minutes per side or even cook them in a lightly oiled saute pan.
Finally, with a few notable and hard-to-find exceptions, mushrooms have a pretty uniform flavor across the countless varieties available, so don’t lock yourself down to shiitakes if you don’t like them or can’t find them. I would simply advise you look for firm-textured ones like portobellos or white buttons if you intend to grill them; but, if you’re inclined to carefully handle the more tender varieties such as oyster or lobster mushrooms, go for it. It’s worth the effort for such a flavorful result. Whether you eat them as an appetizer or side or add them to one of your favorite pastas or soups, I think you’ll enjoy the savory flavor of these mushrooms. Let me know what you think of the recipe or how you use them in the comments!
Mushrooms are a wonderful main course for a vegetarian meal or hearty side with a carnivore’s entree. These would make a wonderful topping with simple buckwheat soba.
Tip: If you have time, let the mushrooms marinate for 20-30 minutes before baking.
Servings: 6 (87 G)
Prep Time: 5 min.
Cook Time: 20 min.
- 1 lb. shiitake mushrooms
- 2 Tbsp. sherry
- 1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp. finely chopped chives
- 2 tsp. sesame seeds
- 2 tsp. minced ginger
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- Lemon wedge
- Preheat oven to 350ºF.
- Whisk together the sherry, soy sauce, chives, sesame seeds, ginger, and sesame oil. Toss mushrooms with sauce.
- Bake mushrooms on a baking sheet until tender (12-15 minutes).
- Sprinkle with lemon juice to serve.