Published November 1, 2008.
We set out to transform this humdrum party food into a first-rate side dish worth making after the holidays are over.
Stuffed mushrooms are often marred by a soggy, gluey, or messy filling. And though white button mushrooms have an ideal shape, they’re no prize in terms of flavor and are easily overshadowed.
We wanted the ultimate stuffed mushroom side dish: meaty, earthy, and intense, with a filling that contributed complementary flavors and textures.
Instead of white button mushrooms, we went with portobello caps for their large size, rich flavor, and wide availability. Since portobellos are 80 to 90 percent water, to avoid a soggy filling, we needed a way to get rid of excess moisture. Instead of salting, which only made the mushrooms slimy, we found that cutting slits in the caps before precooking them in the oven allowed water to drip out and evaporate. Preheating the baking sheet before placing the mushrooms on top mimicked the effects of a hot skillet and produced caramelized exteriors and deep, earthy flavor. For the filling, we developed some basic rules. First, chopped stems made a good base and were convenient as the parts were already on hand. Next, a binder was essential. The most common binders—bread crumbs and béchamel—had problems like soggy fillings and bland flavor. It turned out that cheese kept the stuffing intact, and a bit of cream added lushness. Tasters preferred goat cheese for its tangy flavor. With this solid structure, it was a matter of tweaking. The best fillings combined bright and earthy flavors with soft, creamy textures and a contrasting crunch. In the end, we settled on fresh spinach, the crunchiness of toasted chopped walnuts, the savory flavors of onion and garlic, and the fragrant addition of thyme. For a final flourish, we toasted fresh bread crumbs in a skillet with butter and oil and sprinkled them over each stuffed mushroom. All that was left was a few minutes under the broiler.list of recipes