Is It True That You Should Never Wash Mushrooms?
I love mushrooms. I love them raw, sauteed, in a stew, in a decadent cream sauce, in eggs, on toast, and, of course, in my favorite 70s “gourmet” salad of spinach, bacon, and raw white button mushrooms. And for many years, I believed the inherited wisdom that, under no circumstances were mushrooms to come anywhere near water. “They’re just like little sponges! They will soak up all of the water and turn to mush.”
This makes a kind of sense when you look at the admittedly sponge-like structure of a mushroom.
So I, like many other cooks, have followed the “NO WATER” dictum for years. I take a paper towel, and painstakingly wipe off every single mushroom. I attempt to remove even microscopic bits of filth. It takes forever. But some recent internet perusal has convinced me to entirely reevaluate this process. The folks at both Serious Eats and Cook’s Illustrated conducted experiments involving weighing dry mushrooms, washing and/or soaking the mushrooms with water—and then, weighing them again to see if they were indeed heavy with water. And guess what? It seems that a quick dunk in water not only gets your fungi cleaner, they soak up hardly any water at all. If you leave them soaking for hours, then yes, they retain water. But why would you do that?
I had to try this for myself (albeit with less scientific rigor). Just before cooking, I filled a bowl with water, added the whole mushrooms, swished them around, lifted them out, and dried them in a towel. (A salad spinner is also a great choice for this task.) And the results were as promised… perfectly clean, and not at all waterlogged. I’m converted.
The only minor caveats I have are: Wash just before you cook, and, if you are only using a few raw mushrooms for a salad, go ahead and use the paper towel method. They will stay whiter and firmer.
I know we all get married to our methods, but when a real eye opening change like this shows up, I say embrace it. Your mushrooms will be cleaner. AND it will only take you about 20 seconds to clean a whole pound of them. That’s a change worth embracing.