Sautéed mushrooms are the Brad Pitt of vegetables: a character actor with leading man looks; a vegetable that can turn a supporting role into the best part of dinner. There is very little that a superlative sautéed mushroom cannot do: They add flavorful gravitas to any dish they’re in, whether a humble breakfast omelet, a pedestrian lunchtime salad, a quick weeknight pasta, or a hearty stick-to-your-ribs stew. Their umami-rich excellence makes them a natural compliment — or better yet, the perfect substitution — for beef, the George Clooney of the meat counter.
They can be the basis of a sauce, they can add richness to simply prepared grains, or served nearly naked as a side dish that will threaten the star power of any entree. They even have the ability to make boneless, skinless chicken breasts taste like a revelation.
Though mushrooms are capable of feats of greatness that are the envy of every cast member of the produce section, they are also capable of breaking your heart. Thanks to their high water content, mushrooms can end up soupy, flaccid, and flavorless — a mere shadow of what they had the potential to become, if only they had been sautéed correctly. That sort of tragedy will never happen to you, though, because you are reading this article, which will teach you how to forever coax the best performance possible from your mushrooms, directing them in such a way that your dish that is not middling, but a masterpiece.
Here's everything you need to know about how to turn your sautéed mushrooms into the leading men you know they are.
Find the Right Pan
First things first, epic sautéed mushrooms begins with finding the proper pan: It must be large, and it must be able to get surface-of-the-sun hot.
Pick your biggest, sturdiest sauté pan for the job, preferably a large cast iron skillet, if you have one handy.
Heat It Up
Once you’d gotten the right tool for the job, it must be preheated until it’s as hot as can be. As previously mentioned, mushrooms contain a significant amount of water, water which, once it’s squeezed from the mushroom as it cooks and contracts, needs to evaporate as quickly as possible, lest your mushrooms begin to simmer in their own liquid instead of sautéing.
Give Them Some Room
Speaking of water, it’s imperative that you don’t crowd the pan: Crowding traps steam, steam turns back into water, and the mushrooms end up simmering away in a big puddle of liquid. Spread the mushrooms out as much as you can. If you’re making a huge amount of them, work in batches.
It’s also important that, for the first few minutes of cook time, you don’t fuss around with the mushrooms. Let them sit, completely undisturbed, so that they can develop a good sear.
Excess water will leave the mushroom from the top and sides, evaporating quickly if the pan is properly heated. After a few minutes when they’re finally ready to flip, your mushrooms will have just the right amount of moisture to be succulent, with their natural flavors deeply concentrated.
Once you’ve made it past the first critical five minutes, you no longer have to be concerned about your mushrooms becoming watery and diluted. You can breathe easy, keep on cooking, and get excited, because, truly, when it comes to perfectly sauteed mushrooms, what’s not to get excited about?
How to Sauté the Perfect Mushrooms
Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat. It’s ready to use when a drop of water instantly evaporates when it hits the pan.
Add a tablespoon or two of cooking oil to the pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Add mushrooms — sliced or quartered — and spread out so they’re in a single layer, then sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Let the mushrooms cook undisturbed for 3-4 minutes until the bottoms become a deep golden brown.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan along with any aromatics you’d like to flavor the mushrooms, such as minced garlic or fresh herbs, and toss the mushrooms well to coat. Spread them out once again, using tongs to make sure the unseared sides are now on the bottom of the pan. Cook for another 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and use as desired.