In Praise of the Common Button Mushroom

IMG_0383It used to be that the only mushroom available fresh in the grocery store was the humble button mushroom. If you wanted mushrooms in your dish there were just a couple of choices. You could go canned or you could go button. The canned mushrooms That I grew up with were “B-in-B” brand. The “B-in-B” stood for “Broiled in Butter” and they were available whole, sliced or in pieces. My sister and I used to eat them right out of the can. I first remember seeing fresh mushrooms in our kitchen when my mother made a spinach salad with warm mushrooms served on top of raw spinach, dressed in a vinaigrette and tossed with some got cheese and nuts. She had a little wire cutter that sliced the mushrooms and she showed me that not crowding the pan made all the difference in getting a nice, brown caramelization on the slices. I still use this technique (sans the little wire cutter) and think of her when I notice the distinct change in aroma when its time to turn the mushrooms. The smell goes from butter to toasted nuts so abruptly that it’s impossible to miss it.

Now there are so many other mushroom varietals available that the workhorse button mushroom is almost passé. It’s become the iceberg lettuce of mushrooms and that’s a shame.

For this article I’ve decided to demonstrate a basic mushroom risotto. We’ll use button mushrooms and some organic Louisiana, white rice from my friends at Kenchaux rice. I’ve been cooking with this rice every since my friend Patchez Fox sent me a bag a few months ago. Kitty and I always stay with Patchez and her family during the North Delta Food & Wine Festival and I was excited to giver her family’s rice a try. It has plenty of surface starches so it’s perfect for risotto.

I’m kind-of fanatical about mushroom risotto so I try to find as many ways as possible to coax maximum mushroom flavor out of this dish. It may seem excessive, but I really think it’s all worth the effort. The step that makes this risotto really stand out is that I strain all of the solids out of the mushroom stock and run then through the food processor until they form a coarse paste. The paste is then spread onto a lightly greased sheet pan and dried in the oven. Once it’s dry I scrape the paste from the sheet pan and add the dried bits to the rice at the beginning of the risotto recipe before I start adding the stock. In the interest of time, you can skip this step, but the finished product won’t have the same potency.IMG_0381

Mushroom Risotto


1 lb. fresh button mushrooms

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

4 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped, divided

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped, divided

4 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped, divided

2 cups Arborio rice

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

¼ cup dry white wine


Clean the mushrooms to remove any dirt then remove and reserve the stems.

Roughly chop one half of the mushrooms and keep the rest whole.

With a sharp knife cut a small “x” in the top of each whole mushroom cap. Place the mushrooms in a large mixing bowl, season liberally with salt and pepper and toss with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and 2 tsp. chopped rosemary.

To make the stock­ – in a medium saucepan, heat about one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and sauté one half of the chopped onion and garlic.

Add the chopped mushrooms and stems and season liberally with salt, pepper and 2 tsp. of chopped rosemary. Cook the mushrooms until lightly browned and add 10 cups of water.

Bring the mixture to a light boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking until original volume is reduced by about 1/3.

Strain and skim the stock and reserve the solids.

Transfer the solids from the stock to the work-bowl of a food processor and run on high until a coarse paste is formed.

Lightly grease a sheet pan with olive oil and spread the paste with a spatula to form a thin layer of paste on the surface of the pan.

Roast in a 375-degree oven for 30-45 minutes or until the paste isdry to the touch.

Scrape the dried paste into a small bowl and reserve for later.

To make the risotto – In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine 2 Tbsp. olive oil with the remaining onions, garlic, Arborio rice and the dried mushroom paste. Stir the mixture until all the rice is lightly coated in olive oil and the paste is fully incorporated throughout the rice.

Add two cups of mushroom stock and stir until the rice is wet.

Once the liquid starts to simmer, start stirring the rice making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking. Add about a cup of broth at a time, stirring and simmering while the rice absorbs the liquids. The stirring will agitate the rice and bring out the starches in each grain, making the mixture very creamy without adding any milk or cream.

Continue adding broth and constantly stirring until the risotto has absorbed about eight cups of broth. The risotto should be creamy, but not mushy.

While you are simmering and stirring the risotto, prepare the mushroom caps.

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter and a splash of olive oil until sizzling. Add the seasoned mushroom caps to the butter and oil and arrange them in the pan, top-side-down so that they are not touching each other and have a little room in-between each cap.

Cook the caps in the hot pan until the tops are nicely browned on each side, flipping once.

Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and de-glaze the pan with a splash of water or mushroom broth and ¼ cup of dry white wine. Reduce the liquids until they will coat the back of a spoon

Return the mushrooms, along with any liquids that are in the bowl, to the pan with a tablespoon of butter and toss until the butter is melted.

Serve the sautéed mushrooms over the finished risotto and top with shaved parmesan cheese.

 (Serves 6)