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Monday, March 7, 2011

My Science Project: Part 1

I’m not sure what grade I’d be in now, but I’m going to do a science fair project this year.  I’ll even use the actual Scientific Method, and probably it will be a far better and more rigorous investigation than any of the slapdash assignments I grudgingly turned out while slogging through middle school. 
Question: How should you clean mushrooms?
I got to thinking about this after one of those days where it seems every facet of everyday life turns on a single subject…casual conversations, tv spots, magazine articles, cookbook guidelines.  That day mushrooms and proper cleaning methods thereof occupied a great deal of the universe's energy.  I personally think the official Food Network position that mushrooms must only be wiped with a damp or dry cloth to avoid Bad Culinary Things is hoodoo-voodoo and routinely wash—gasp!—mine under running water, followed by a toweling off. 
But it did get me thinking…what if I’m wrong?  Have I been abusing my mushrooms all these years?  What really is the best way to clean a mushroom—here is the moment of relevance--in the context of prep-ahead cookery?  
Before designing my experiment, I need to know what evils purportedly befall washed mushrooms and what methods are recommended to avoid them.  I am also curious if there is any literature on preparation of mushrooms immediately before cooking versus advance preparation. 
I consulted the websites of the National Mushroom Council (whose website also reveals that mushrooms are Vitamin D powerhouses and a very good source of copper, selenium and riboflavin.  Betcha didn't know that...I didn't!), the Mycological Society of San Francisco, Alton Brown's Good Eats transcripts, various cooking discussion forums (fora?) and Julia Child's How to CookMy findings are arranged below showing what each source recommendations as a cleaning method, what pitfalls await if you use the wrong cleaning method and whether or not to clean in advance.

The incidence of rinse quickly + pat dry confirms my personal preference for this method, so I will stand by it as my hypothesis that it is the best manner in which to clean mushrooms thoroughly without compromising flavor or texture even for delayed cooking (a practice which is generally disfavored, but which constitutes reality in my kitchen). 

Stay tuned for details of the experimental design...

FYI...Taste of Home is sponsoring a mushroom recipe contest through August.  Prizes involve Weber grills, I think.

Suggested Cleaning Methods

soft dry brush, rinse quickly + pat dry
damp cloth, avoid wetting undersides
rinse quickly + pat dry
Discussion fora 
peeling, rinse quickly + salad spinner
Julia Child 
soft dry brush, quick soak + pat dry

Potential Negative Results

loss of flavor
Discussion fora 
turn mushy, absorb excess water
remaining dirt

Immediate vs. delayed  use

clean as you use them
wash immediately before cooking
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