How many of us throughout our lives keep doing things a certain way without wondering if the rationale we give to our actions has any firm foundations.
The maxim that mushrooms are thirsty little sponges that become waterlogged if they get so much as
splashed with water has been etched into my kitchen consciousness. In recent years, however, several credible sources have debunked this myth by weighing mushrooms, dousing them with cold water, and then reweighing them. The result: The water-washed mushrooms don’t weigh any more than they did
dry, meaning that they aren’t at all spongelike and don’t soak up water. So if you like to wash all produce thoroughly, go ahead and wash the mushrooms—as long as you do it immediately before using them. Mushrooms will deteriorate very rapidly if left wet, so unless you’re planning to add them directly to something liquid (soup, sauce, etc.), it’s important to wipe them dry immediately after washing. The two most common methods for washing are to give them a quick rinse with a sprayer or to swish them around in a bowl of cold water. If you’re roasting or sautéing, you have to be extra-sure to dry mushrooms thoroughly—damp ingredients don’t brown up very well at all.
Now that I’ve said all this, if, like me, you’ve always cleaned mushrooms simply by wiping the surfaces with a paper towel, there’s no reason to change your ways. For very dirty mushrooms (the “dirt” on cultivated mushrooms is actually a specific type of sterilized compost), I sometimes use a damp towel.
(* Reprinted from All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art by Molly Stevens. © 2011 by Molly Stevens. Photographs © 2011 by Quentin Bacon. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.)