Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
One of my favorite things about mushrooms is how delicious they become from simple roasting.
I love hen-of-the-woods mushrooms in particular. They are not a wild mushroom but they are deliciously nutty in flavor and very easy to deal with. While they are pricey, their yield (with the exception of the little tough stem) is 100 percent!
Here is my favorite recipe for them and keep in mind that you could easily use this method of roasting with cremini or white button mushrooms instead.
Roasted Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms with Reduced Balsamic Vinegar
2 cups balsamic vinegar
1 lb. hen-of-the-woods mushrooms
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1. Make the reduced balsamic vinegar: Over medium heat, reduce the balsamic in a (stainless steel) medium pot over low heat until there is about ¾ cup liquid remaining. The stainless steel is a good non-reactive metal so the vinegar does not pick up any metallic notes as it reduces. Take care not to reduce quickly or it can easily burn. It should be slightly syrupy. Remove from the heat and transfer to a stainless bowl (or any heatproof bowl) to cool before drizzling.
2. Cook the mushrooms: Arrange the mushrooms on a baking sheets in chunks and drizzle with olive oil and salt. Place the tray in the oven and cook until tender, 15-20 minutes. Break the mushrooms into smaller pieces (but not too small). Toss with some reduced balsamic and taste for seasoning. You can also top a seated steak with these mushrooms or make a “meaty” vegetarian entree by topping a bowl of quinoa or braised white beans with these babies.
Now mushrooms can be intimidating. White buttons, creminis are decently priced but others are expensive and become an investment.
Here are a few of my favorite rules for mushrooms but fasten your seat belts because a few of them are controversial to some.
Washing mushrooms? I always learned never to wash them but to simply wipe dirt off with a damp kitchen towel. But what if they are really dirty? If they are, I wash them thoroughly just before I am about to cook them. Blasphemy, I know, but not if done just before cooking. That way, the water (which dilutes their flavor) that is absorbed from washing is mostly immediately drawn out from cooking. Who wants to eat dirt anyway?
What about the stems? I hate not to eat the whole thing. While shiitake mushrooms really have an inedible, tough stem that I only put in vegetable or chicken stock, I otherwise use the stems. I trim and discard the dirty, gritty end only and leave the stem intact for white buttons, Portobellos, creminis and oyster mushrooms.
How do I know when they are cooked? Mushrooms take longer than you might think to be fully cooked and often taste better when they are given more time on the stove. I wait to see that it has visibly given up liquid (like portobellos) or when they are slightly darker in color, somewhat reduced in size and if the pan sizzles as if there is no excess water left to cook out.
Can I eat any mushrooms raw? I love white button mushrooms peeled of their outer skin and served raw in slices, in a salad. My dad always made that when I was growing up tossed with some arugula, lemon and olive oil. Sprinkle some grated Parmesan on there and you’re off to the races.