July 10, 2014
King oyster mushrooms have a touch of flavor on their own, but their savory tastes are really unleashed when fried. Though there are subtleties when frying mushrooms.
When sliced, king oysters expose their porous insides. Frying serves a three-fold purpose at the site of this newly exposed surface. First water is lost here which is important for the eventual texture of the cooked mushrooms. Any water remaining in the mushrooms will contribute to a limp appearance and soggy body. A pan crowded with mushrooms is much more likely to prevent the adequate evaporation of water as released effectively soaking their exterior while cooking.
Second, non-ezymatic browning reactions take place at the high temperatures at the cut surface. The Maillard reactions are responsible for browning and the creation of flavor compounds. In this reaction, sugars and amino acids found in the mushroom react at 284 – 329 °F (140 – 165 °C). At higher temperatures carmelization reactions predominate, but evaporating water will maintain temperatures within this range. Still higher temperatures result in further pyrolysis–“burning food.”
Third, the porous microstructure inside the mushroom soaks up whatever fat or oil is used to do the frying. This occurs fastest when the water is gone, but prior to carmelization. This is a prime opportunity to impart fats or fat-soluble compounds with desirable flavors, but over accumulation of these oils will likewise result in soggy mushroom slices.
The king oyster mushroom slices illustrated above are an example where the three of these events have occurred in deliberate concert. A pan preheated on high heat immediately reaches carmelization temperatures. Subsequently dropping the heat allows water to evaporate while Maillard reactions occur. In the final moments of cooking, these mushrooms in particular were coated with Ethiopian spiced butter to further deepen their flavor.
This appetizer or side-dish portion was garnished with borage blossoms.
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