Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's ok to wash your mushrooms

Dear Matthew*,

Thank you for bringing me out of the mushroom dark ages and dispelling the myth that getting mushrooms wet is a no-no. I am a liberated woman now. No more wiping, no more brushing, no more scrubbing to get those pesky little pieces of dirt of my fungi!

I have to say that I was a bit skeptical at first. After a little googling, I found out about Alton Brown's experiment of soaking mushrooms in water and weighting them afterwards to find out that they only absorbed a trivial amount of water. But I had two problems with this experiment. Alton only used button mushrooms and I was wondering whether his conclusions would still hold for other types of mushrooms. After 10 minutes of soaking, 4 oz of mushrooms absorbed around 1 teaspoon of water. This sounds trivial, but I wouldn't consider putting 1 teaspoons of water on my steak if I wanted it to brown, so why would I allow any moisture touch my mushrooms.Since the sweat-and-sauté method resulted in a large release of mushroom juices, an extra teaspoon of absorbed water won't make a dent. But what about roasting? The whole objective there is to get mushrooms nicely crisp around the edges. Will that work with damp mushrooms?

There was only one way to find out. I bought some portabellas and oysters today and split them into two batches. I washed and thoroughly dried the first batch and brushed the dirt off the second batch with my usual toothbrush method. Portabellas got almost completely back to their pre-wash condition once I was done drying them. But the oysters got pretty soaked. They are very delicate and some water got stuck between their gills, which made complete drying almost impossible.

I placed the mushrooms on a large cookie sheet side by side. Drizzled with oil and sprinkle with salt, then roasted at 425F. The only difference between washed ones and brushed ones was the cooking time. The washed mushrooms took a few extra minutes to get nice and crisp, but final result was identical between the two batches.

The pile on the right was washed and pile on the left was not washed. Why are the washed ones even crisper than the unwashed? I put them in the oven for a few extra minutes and forgot to set the timer ;)

How did they get crispy if they absorbed extra water? I'll side with Matthew's theory:
What I'm visualizing happening is: as soon as the mushroom warms up, it's going to release tons of water. The surface browns after the water is evaporated. So the surface is going to get temporarily slimy in the oven anyway.
My Mom is probably laughing reading this post. I am sure she'll say, "I told you so :)" In Russia, mushrooms are always washed, and she's been giving me funny looks when watching me attempt to clean them without water. So, kids, listen to your Moms (unless they tell you to wash chicken ;)


* Matthew Amster-Burton is a great food writer. Check out his Unexplained Bacon column on Culinate and his blog.


Katerina said...

Ha!! I am totally a mushroom washer, I just can't be bothered to be all finicky about it when they are really muddy. Plus they are grown in... well I would rather not say.

Kalyn Denny said...

I've been washing them for years!

Anonymous said...

Hi kids,
At last my blue dream came true!
Helen said: "listen to your mom" when you have some dilema on your hands. But what really made my heart sing is that it has been proven by highly experimental sience discussion that took place here:).
I wish your moms would feel what I feel now at least once in there lifetime. Though we still have unwashed chicken at the and of the talk ;), I could of not dream about better present to recieve for the recently past Mother's Day.
Thank you, my Sweet Heart. Sometimes we moms just need to hear these very words like a psychological therapy:).

Helen's mom

PS. BTW, I also switched to drycleaning method after whatching too much of FoodTV, so you cleared this dilema for me too:).

mamster said...

Now that I know it leads to heartwarming family moments, I'm going to go around correcting people all the time.

And I am totally against washing chicken. :)

Anonymous said...

my mom dose tell me to wash chicken...better get some earplugs. I AM A MUSHROOM WASHER. the first time my aunt told us to never wash mushrooms we all looked at her funny. as for the washing debate I do think that it is important to distinguish between the water on the mushroom's surface and the water that mushrooms absorb.

Anonymous said...

You mean we don't wash chickens? Take me to should we clean them?

Jean Z. said...

Count me as a button mushroom washer! Everything else, I use the paper towel on -- Wonderful site. Keep up the great work.
-- Jean

Anonymous said...

Helen, just stumbled upon your blog today. I love it! Gorgeous! :)

Helen said...

Click on the link for info on washing chicken.

It's not dirty, so there is no need to wash it (like getting the earth of mushrooms, for example). It is on it's way to decomposing (in other words bacteria is starting to grow), and it might have salmonella; thus it needs to be cooked. Washing will not help you with either bacteria or salmonella.


shauna said...

This just cracks me up. My goodness, there is so much packed into this post!

Helen's mom -- you really should start your own blog.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Shauna,
I just enjoy reading the posts and all these "heating discussions", and sometimes it's just hard not to "participate" :). Though I might be bias (it's my daughter's blog we are talking about) I do find it very interesting and fun to read + sometimes I learn something too (like: "To wash, or not to wash - that is the quastion!") ;).
As of my own blog idea I take it as a very nice compliment and thank you for it, but with my spead of tipping this task seems just impossible for me :).
Good cooking day to you.
Helen's mom

Helen said...

I think my Mommy means "speed of typing". She is a pretty good "tipper" :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, thank you Helen for correcting me. That's exectly what I meant.

Helen's mom

Anonymous said...

Simple but valuable experiment from you!

Anonymous said...

I'm a wild mushroom hunter and the general wisdom I've heard is that washing mushrooms diminishes the flavor. This might be less important with store bought mushrooms.

Like your blog. Cheers.

Lina said...

Hi Helen,

I stumbled upon your blog while updating mine. Haven't read your posts. But your pics speak a thousand words....The food look tantalising. Rushing off no but will visit to see what I can try...

Anne said...

I’ve been washing mushrooms ever since I started cooking a bazillion years ago. I’ve always been told that was taboo, but hey, I’m cooking, I can do whatever I want in the kitchen!

praveenboss said...

fantastic work , great going... visit mine too

Robert said...


Love Salmon. This lense looks good enough to eat! Very well done. Salmon is so very good for your body and health.


Anonymous said...

look yummy ... ehm

praveenboss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.