Monday, May 26, 2008

Portabella Mushrooms

I went on my produce company's web site to order things for tomorrow, including portabella mushrooms, which are real crowd pleasers on our lunch menu in the Grilled Portabella Sandwich and Crab-Stuffed Portabella. I noticed on the web site that the produce company uses the term Portobello (the produce company is known not to be the most virtuous of spellers) which I see fairly commonly on other menus and on the Internet.

A quick check with the industry trade group the Mushroom Council shows that they refer to the mushroom as a portabella.

The portabella is simply a large cremini mushroom, which is also known as a brown mushroom and also marketed as a Baby 'Bella. Ports develop a good bit more flavor than the creminis, and a lot of this flavor is in the very dark brown gills. The stem on the portabella, which is up to a week older than the cremini form, is fairly woody. We order caps only, so as not to waste storage space on stems. If we had stems, they would go into the stock pot.

For many applications, I remove the gills by scraping them out with a spoon. I remove them when the flavor would dominate the other ingredients in the dish (such as crabmeat) or when they would give an undesired dark color to the dish. For all other applications, such as grilled ports, I leave the gills.

Here is a vastly crowd pleasing appetizer that we ran many years ago and make now for customers by special request.

Balsamic-Glazed Portabella Mushrooms

extra virgin olive oil
1 large portabella cap, in 1/2" slices
fresh thyme leaves
fresh garlic
salt and pepper
salad mix and balsamic vinaigrette

Film a large sauté pan with a good coat of olive oil and heat to very hot. Place the mushroom slices in the pan, cut side down and cook until browned.

Flip the mushroom slices over. You may need to add more oil at this point because the mushrooms are sponges. Sprinkle with thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper.

Just as the mushrooms brown on the bottom, splash the pan with some balsamic vinegar (beware of flash flames) and turn the mushrooms to coat in the reducing vinegar.

Serve immediately.

We fan the mushrooms over a small plate of salad mix dressed with balsamic vinaigrette and pour any remaining liquid from the pan over the top.

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