Alton Brown on What to ‘Beware’ of When Buying Mushrooms, Plus the Right Way to Clean the Meaty Veggies

Ever wonder what you should be looking for when purchasing mushrooms?

Celebrity chef Alton Brown, in his recent cookbook Good Eats 4:The Final Years, provides guidance on what to look for in healthy mushrooms, what to avoid, and the right way to clean your ‘shrooms.

Celebrity chef Alton Brown wears a dark suit in this photograph.
Alton Brown | Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Netflix

Brown reveals what to steer clear of at the grocery store when buying mushrooms

In his cookbook, the Good Eats star warns mushroom lovers: “don’t assume that bulk or whole, loose mushrooms are any fresher than mushrooms that are packaged. Freshness depends much more on what sells the quickest and gets restocked most often in your store.”

“Beware,” he adds, “if you see condensation inside the package. The same goes for un-refrigerated mushrooms or mushrooms that are, heaven forbid, under the mister.”

And if you’re the type to remove your supermarket mushrooms from the plastic wrapping before storing in the fridge, don’t.

“You can just leave mushrooms in their packaging if they come in it,” Brown advises. “Modern packaging and films provide reasonably well for mushrooms’ respiratory needs. Loose specimens still go into paper bags, but I have no issues leaving these as is for up to four days.”

Washing mushrooms, demystified by Alton Brown

Washing mushrooms confuses many home cooks: do you only brush them before cooking as many top chefs suggest? Or, do you rinse them under water? Or both? Alton Brown says it’s all about what kind of mushrooms you’re talking about, and the quantity being cleaned.

“When it comes time for cleaning, I treat different specimens, well, differently,” he explains. “It comes down to how they are grown and how many I may need.

“If I want a few for a raw application, like a salad, I give them a sweep with a semi-stiff brush like a pastry brush and go about my dish. If I’m dealing with a lot of mushrooms like … oysters, I give them a quick dunk in cold water.”

While Brown says he used to spray his mushrooms thoroughly, he says he’s “since found a dunk efficiently dislodges dirt and bugs and stuff.”

And, to do his “dunk,” you’ll need a salad spinner, “because it’s easy to fill the salad spinner with water, dunk your mushrooms, and toss them around. … Take ’em for a spin, as you would salad greens.”

After that, if the ‘shrooms are still on the wet side, just dry each one with “a clean tea towel.”

The chef’s sautéed mushrooms

The former Food Network star says, for great sautéed mushrooms, don’t begin by cooking them in fat; instead, the tap is the way to go.

“The best way to sauté mushrooms is to cook them in water first,” he explains. “Since they’re quite porous, hot water can easily move into mushrooms, deflating and compacting the air pockets, resulting in slices that are dense and meaty, yet also floppy.”

After they’ve cooked for a bit in water is the time to add fat to the skillet, Brown says, “deepening the flavor in the process.”

The chef notes that there’s no such thing as overcooking mushrooms: “It’s dang near impossible.”

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