This is a public service announcement, and it won’t take long. If you’ve been reading Heated this month, you may have noticed that we’ve been talking a lot about meat alternatives — such as high-tech burgers that “bleed” like beef but are made mostly of plants (that sort of thing), and this mushroom-nut burger. Well, before any of this stuff existed, people who wanted something “meaty” without eating meat ate mushrooms. For better or worse, the default “oh, so you don’t eat any meat?” dish served to vegetarians at restaurants and parties was a portobello “burger” or some analogous concoction where the mushrooms masquerade as meat.
Whether you cook mushrooms constantly, infrequently, or somewhere in between, there’s a decent chance you’re cleaning them wrong.
There’s this myth that you should never ever wash mushrooms because they’ll absorb too much water. Instead, what we’ve been taught to do is daintily wipe the dirt off with a damp cloth or paper towel.
This is maddeningly slow and a huge waste of time. To clean mushrooms, you should rinse them under running water. Yes, mushrooms are porous, and if you leave them sitting in a bowl of water they will soak it up like a sponge. But a quick blast of running water to wipe the dirt off will not make them any worse for wear, and will save you a lot of time and frustration in the kitchen.
If cleaning mushrooms is less frustrating, maybe we’ll cook more mushrooms. If we cook more mushrooms, maybe we’ll eat less meat. If we eat less meat, maybe (definitely) we’ll be healthier and so will the earth. PSA over.
Mark Bittman is the author of more than 20 acclaimed books, including the “How to Cook Everything” series. He wrote for The New York Times for more than two decades, and became the country’s first food-focused op-ed columnist for a major news publication. He has hosted two television series and been featured in two others, including the Emmy-winning “Years of Living Dangerously.” Bittman is currently the special adviser on food policy at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and the editor-in-chief of Heated.