Baton Rouge, La. 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.
Although most home cooks don't think of stuffed mushrooms as family fare, there's no reason why 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.
New on the market are small cremini mushrooms labeled "Baby Portobella" 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.
The Advocate's food staff tested recipes using both mushrooms. Both varieties held up equally well to cleaning, trimming, stuffing and cooking. However, the staff found a big difference in taste between the two types of mushrooms and recommends using the white mushrooms for more delicate, crab- or shrimp-based stuffings. The Baby Portobellas 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.
Though we were able to achieve a predictably "perfect" stuffed mushroom, we weren't able to eliminate the time-consuming labor. Mushrooms still have to be cleaned, trimmed, the filling cooked, individually stuffed, baked and broiled. It's a multistep preparation that eats up the clock.
We suggest you include the preseasoning preparation described above when you make any of the following recipes.
2 pounds medium mushrooms
About 4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small (1-pound) eggplant, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 small celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chili sauce
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds, finely chopped
Remove stems from mushrooms. Coarsely chop stems; set caps aside.
In 10-inch skillet, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat; add mushroom stems, eggplant, onion and celery and cook, stirring frequently, 15 minutes, or until tender and browned.
Stir in chili sauce, capers and basil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in parsley.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush mushroom caps lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon filling into each mushroom cap (use any leftover filling to serve on crackers another day).
Place in jellyroll pan; bake 10 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and hot. To serve, sprinkle with almonds.
Makes about 48 mushrooms.
Recipe from "The Good Housekeeping Step-by-Step Cookbook."
16 medium mushrooms
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 pound mild Italian sausage
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon 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.
Recipe from Mike Anderson's "Seafood" cookbook.
3/4 cup chopped yellow onions
3/4 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
1 1/2 sticks margarine or butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1/4 pound crabmeat (claw)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 1/2 teaspoons parsley flakes
1 tablespoon fresh Italian bread crumbs
24 fresh 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.
Recipe from Mike Anderson's "Seafood" cookbook.
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound good lump crabmeat, picked over
1/4 cup sherry
3 dozen small or 2 dozen medium white mushrooms (about 3 pint containers)
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 (350 F).
Drain off excess moisture before placing on serving platter and garnish each with paprika, chopped chives or a tiny parsley sprig, if desired.
Recipe from Mississippi magazine, November-December 2003 issue.