Soften Mushrooms Faster With A Squeeze Of Lemon Juice

Mushrooms come in countless varieties, which share a rich umami flavor and a chewy texture that's often compared to red meat or chicken. Consequently, it's fitting that you can tenderize mushrooms much as you would a steak. However, instead of beating a mushroom into submission or soaking it in a salt brine, the appropriate method requires a simple squeeze of lemon juice.

Acidic ingredients have long been used as a tenderizer because they facilitate the breakdown of chewy or tough fibers in meat. Lemon juice provides enough acid to soften mushrooms while also infusing their umami richness with a zing of zesty flavor. Since mushrooms aren't nearly as tough or dense as meat, lemon juice will have a nearly instantaneous effect. There's no need to marinate the mushrooms in acid; all you have to do is squeeze lemon juice in with the oil you use to saute them. You'll essentially make a vinaigrette saute sauce with equal parts lemon juice and oil.

Mushrooms are highly absorbent, so they'll soak up the lemon juice and oil, enhancing their flavor as they release their natural liquids and quickly soften. If you don't have lemon juice on hand, any citrus or vinegar will have the same tenderizing effect. That said, the flavor the alternatives impart will differ; orange juice, sherry, and balsamic vinegar will add sweetness along with their characteristic tang. 

More tips for cooking mushrooms

Adding a squeeze of lemon juice to your mushroom saute is simple enough, and it'll make a quick saute even quicker. But there are more tips to maximize flavor and texture. First, make sure not to inundate mushrooms with water when you wash them. Mushrooms contain dirt and sand, so most people prefer to wash them to avoid a mouthful of grit. Instead of running them under a faucet, dunk them in a bowl of water for around 10 seconds, then let them dry out for an hour before sauteing them.

Perhaps the most essential tip when cooking mushrooms is not to crowd the pan. Mushrooms contain a lot of water, and lemon juice will expedite the release of water into the pan. If you pile a bunch of mushrooms in the pan, the liquid won't have enough room to evaporate, and you'll be left with mushy, flavorless results.

A mixture of lemon juice and olive oil will add equal parts tang and earthiness to the umami taste of the mushrooms, but you can get as creative as you'd like with fat, seasonings, and herbs. For example, you could use equal parts oil and butter with lemon juice to add a sumptuous richness. Meanwhile, garlic is a classic aromatic complement to fry up with your favorite mushrooms that pairs well with lemon juice too.