It takes a little work to stuff a mushroom

  • By Tommy C. Simmons / Associated Press
  • Tuesday, December 28, 2004 9:00pm
  • Life

I overheard a dinner guest describe stuffed mushrooms as “appetizer nirvana.” That’s a strong recommendation for these oldie-but-goodie party morsels.

Do they really rate that high an appraisal? I asked.

Take a bite, he said, and offered a toothpick-speared mushroom from the platter on the table in front of us.

I took a mouthful of the meaty morsel filled with a buttery crabmeat and toasted bread-crumb stuffing.

Well, he asked, don’t you agree that this elegant hors d’oeuvre deserves its lofty reputation?

Nirvana is a tad effusive in my estimation, but I had to admit the stuffed mushroom was rich, warm and pleasant tasting. Why, I wondered, aren’t more hosts serving stuffed mushrooms? These are wonderful.

Although most home cooks don’t think of stuffed mushrooms as family fare, there’s no reason stuffed mushrooms couldn’t show up on the dinner table as well as the party tray.

The key to making this possible is examining the mushroom-stuffing process to see if it can be made simpler and less time consuming.

Selecting the right mushroom for stuffing is important. Look for small, whole mushrooms. The bigger ones are too large a mouthful and really are better as fork food than finger food.

Try small cremini mushrooms, sometimes labeled “baby portabella” mushrooms.

Small creminis are light tan to brown in color and have a stronger meaty or mushroom flavor than the more common white mushrooms. White mushrooms are the most popular. Small, white mushrooms are creamy white to beige in color.

Both varieties hold up equally well to cleaning, trimming, stuffing and cooking. There’s a big difference in taste between the two types of mushrooms.

We recommend using the white mushrooms for more delicate, crab- or shrimp-based stuffings. The baby portabellas worked well with sausage, eggplant or heartier-flavored stuffings.

Stuffed mushroom aficionados describe the perfect stuffed mushroom as having a firm, meaty mushroom cap, buttery filling and toasted top. Their chief criticism is that the filling or stuffing tastes steamed rather than sauteed and buttery. And they don’t like the top of the mushroom to be soggy, or again, steamed-like in taste and texture. They like a lightly crisped top, achieved through broiling, not microwaving, before serving.

Working with this flavor profile for a perfect stuffed mushroom, the staff experimented with how to achieve it.

We had problems overcoming the steamy softness described as a flaw. Baking, broiling, microwaving, even in combination, didn’t overcome the steam that developed between the mushroom and the filling and made the filling soggy.

I remembered reading cookbook author and restaurant critic John Mariani’s tip to preseason mushrooms before adding them to pasta primavera to intensify the mushroom flavor, so I decided to try handling the mushroom caps as I would an eggplant that I was going to saute.

I mixed 1/8 teaspoon salt into 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil. After I rinsed, cleaned and trimmed the mushroom caps, I tossed them in the seasoned olive oil, making sure the caps were coated inside and out with the seasoned oil.

Then I put the caps on paper towels to drain. After 30 minutes, I turned the caps over and continued draining.

The seasoned olive oil darkened the mushroom caps and changed the texture, just as it does when you pre-salt eggplant. The mushrooms gave off a good bit of moisture and firmed up considerably.

On one batch, I actually had to change the paper towel and put down a fresh dry towel because the mushrooms were giving off so much moisture.

I prepared the stuffing as usual and filled the caps. I prefer baking the caps in a little butter at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, and then crisping the top of the mushroom stuffing by broiling for a few more minutes or just until the top of the buttery stuffing is toasted.

Voila! Preseasoning the mushroom caps in seasoned olive oil made a huge difference in the taste and texture of the stuffed mushrooms. We never had any more steamed or soggy filling problems.

We also found that you could assemble the preseasoned stuffed mushrooms and refrigerate them until you are ready to bake and serve, again with no problems.

Sausage-stuffed mushrooms

16medium mushrooms

1tablespoon lemon juice

1/2pound mild Italian sausage

1/8teaspoon salt

1/8teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Remove the mushroom stems and mince them. Toss the caps with the lemon juice.

Butter a shallow baking dish. Remove the sausage from its casing; put in a medium bowl. Add the mushroom stems, salt and pepper. Mix lightly to blend. Fill the cavity of each mushroom cap with the stuffing, mounding it slightly. Put in the prepared baking dish. Bake until the sausage is no longer pink, about 15 minutes.

Makes 16 mushrooms.

From Mike Anderson’s “Seafood” cookbook

Crabmeat-stuffed mushrooms

3/4cup chopped yellow onion

3/4cup chopped fresh mushrooms

1 1/2sticks margarine or butter

1/4teaspoon salt

1/8teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2teaspoons granulated garlic

1/4pound crabmeat (claw)

1 1/2tablespoons chopped green onions

1 1/2teaspoons parsley flakes

1tablespoon fresh Italian bread crumbs

24fresh jumbo mushroom caps (note)

Grated Parmesan cheese

In a medium saucepan, saute onions and chopped mushrooms in 1/2 stick margarine or butter. Cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes over low heat. Stir frequently. Add salt, cayenne pepper and garlic. Stir. Add crabmeat. Cover and simmer 12 minutes. Add green onions, parsley and bread crumbs. Mix well.

Fill each mushroom cap with stuffing. Melt remaining 1 stick margarine or butter, and pour into a baking dish. Place mushrooms in margarine or butter. Broil on high 4 minutes. If refrigerated, broil on high 8 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Tester used 1 box of bite-size mushrooms.

From Mike Anderson’s “Seafood” cookbook

Nutmeg is the secret in these succulent little treats. Use smaller mushrooms to increase the quantity for a large crowd.

Crab-stuffed mushrooms

4tablespoons butter

4tablespoons flour

3cups milk

1/4teaspoon nutmeg

1/4teaspoon paprika

1/4teaspoon black pepper

1/4teaspoon cayenne pepper

1pound good lump crabmeat, picked over

1/4cup sherry

3dozen small or 2 dozen medium white mushrooms (about 3 pint containers)

Olive oil

Paprika, chopped chives or parsley for garnish

Make a good thick cream sauce by melting butter and flour, then adding milk slowly until desired consistency is attained. Stir with wire whisk until smooth.

Add seasonings and crabmeat, stirring gently to avoid breaking up crab pieces, until mixture just comes to a boil. Add sherry, remove from heat and stir.

Remove stems from mushrooms. Rinse mushroom caps well and dry with paper towels. Rub with olive oil. Spoon filling into mushroom caps, then bake until tender in medium oven at 350 degrees.

Drain off excess moisture before placing on serving platter and garnish each with paprika, chopped chives or a tiny parsley sprig, if desired.

From Mississippi magazine, November-December 2003

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