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The Comfort Food Diner: spicy fried mushrooms

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Growing up, I had an aversion to all mushrooms. I think my young palate couldn’t cope with their unique texture, and as well, I’m not convinced I had an opportunity to enjoy really well-prepared mushrooms as a kid. My aversion disappeared in early adulthood, and over the years I’ve acquired quite a taste for mushrooms, including many varieties I forage for in the woods.

Last night I was making a spinach salad. I had some nice baby spinach and some mediocre grape tomatoes, and an English cucumber, but I really felt like jazzing it up a little. I had some excellent cremini mushrooms on hand and that gave me an idea. Oh, by the way, did you know that cremini (the common brown grocery store mushrooms), your basic white mushrooms (which I call Loblaws mushrooms because everyone understands what I mean), and the big meaty portobello mushrooms are all in fact the same species – Agaricus bisporus?

Here’s the plan. Slice up a bunch of mushrooms. Any of the common grocery store mushrooms are fine. If  you’ve just won a small lottery, the shiitake mushrooms (which grow on oak logs) are also excellent for this. Heat up a pan to medium heat (I use my trusty old cast iron pan for this) with a dollop of butter and a splash of vegetable oil, and add the mushrooms, stirring them regularly as they cook.

Some people have difficulty cooking mushrooms because they don’t realize what happens when you cook them. Mushrooms contain a lot of water and when they start to cook, they release it. Don’t worry about this. Just let them cook. Let the water disappear. After that, they’ll slowly start to brown. Once the water has cooked off, add some salt and some cayenne or some other ground hot chili. I have some scotch bonnets I dried in a dehydrator and ground up in a coffee grinder, which are perfect for this. I like these quite spicy so I add in a liberal quantity of scotch bonnets,

Keep cooking the mushrooms. They will begin to brown. Don’t panic, just keep cooking them until they take on a rich brown colour. Resist the temptation to add more fat. You may have to lower the heat some. The texture will begin to transform as well. Just how far you take the cooking is up to you. I allowed the mushrooms in the photo above to cook for another minute or so after I snapped the picture.

When you’re satisfied you’ve cooked the mushrooms enough, take them off the heat and let them cool. At this point, you need to try one to make sure they are as amazing as they look. Once you realize that yes they are, make some toast, open a cold beer and spoon a generous amount of mushrooms onto a piece of toast – and enjoy. You’re the cook and you deserve it. Don’t worry, you’ve made plenty enough for the salad.

Once your mushrooms have cooled add them to your salad before dressing it. Last night, my fried mushrooms transformed an ordinary spinach salad into a spectacular taste and texture experience.

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