Menu
Search
Menu
Close

We make mistakes so you don’t have to.

Try CooksIllustrated.com Free for 14 Days

Email is required
How we use your email address

Why You Can’t Overcook Mushrooms

By Cook's Illustrated Published

The answer lies in the mushroom's heat-stable composition.

Cooks often lump mushrooms into the category of vegetables (they’re actually a fungus). While mushrooms display characteristics of vegetables (high water content) as well as meat (savory flavor), they are unique in their ability to maintain a pleasant texture over a wide range of cooking times. We set up the following experiment to illustrate how a mushroom’s texture changes with cooking as compared with that of a green vegetable and a cut of beef.

Experiment

We cut ½-inch-thick planks of portobello mushroom, zucchini, and beef tenderloin and steamed them in a basket in a large Dutch oven for 40 minutes. At 5-minute intervals we used a piece of equipment called a CT3 Texture Analyzer to determine how much force was required to “bite” into each piece of food.

Results

After 5 minutes of steaming, the tenderloin, portobello, and zucchini required 186, 199, and 239 grams of force, respectively, to be compressed (or “bite”) 3 millimeters into the food. Tasters noted that all of these samples were tender. 

This picture changed rapidly after 5 more minutes of steaming. At the 10-minute mark, the tenderloin, portobello, and zucchini samples required 524, 195, and 109 grams of force, respectively. Tasters found the tenderloin tough and leathery and the zucchini overly soft. The portobello, on the other hand, remained largely unchanged. 

Over the course of the next 30 minutes, the tenderloin continued to toughen, eventually turning a whopping 293 percent tougher, while the zucchini decreased in firmness 83 percent and turned mushy and structureless. The portobello, meanwhile, increased in firmness just 57 percent over the same period of time; after a full 40 minutes of cooking, tasters found the mushroom to still be properly tender.

Takeaway

While many foods we cook require precise attention to internal temperature and cooking time, mushrooms are remarkably forgiving. The key to their resiliency lies in their cell walls, which are made of a polymer called chitin. Unlike the proteins in meat or the pectin in vegetables, chitin is very heat-stable. This unique structure allows us to quickly sauté mushrooms for a few minutes or roast them for the better part of an hour, all the while achieving well-browned, perfectly tender specimens.

Leave a comment and join the conversation!

0 Comments
Read & post comments with a free account
Join the conversation with our community of home cooks, test cooks, and editors.
First Name is Required
Last Name is Required
Email Address is Required
How we use your email?
Password is Required
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.