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I heard on a film the other day that you shouldn't crowd mushrooms when cooking them? What does this mean and how do you avoid doing it?

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    Someone watched Julie & Julia recently. :) Sep 16 '10 at 0:45
  • Indeed I did. :)
    – Bluebelle
    Sep 23 '10 at 15:26
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It's not the mushrooms that are important, it's the "crowding" -- basically, you don't want so much food in the pan at once that the bits are packed tightly, or in more than one layer.

This is especially important for items that give off a lot of water as they cook (like mushrooms), or that you're trying to get to crisp up, as you want to leave space for the moisture to evaporate and escape without causing the food to steam.

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    Yep. I find this is one of the mistakes that beginners (or generally poor cooks) make the most. The result is mushy, bland, unbrowned food and they aren't sure why. Another cause of this is fear of turning up the heat sufficiently. Sep 15 '10 at 21:32
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    Bingo. Applies to much more than mushrooms - pan searing meats, veggies, etc.
    – ceejayoz
    Sep 15 '10 at 22:14
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This is old-school advice, and mostly wrong. When sauteeing vegetables, it's important not to crowd the pan, or many of the vegetables will steam, and become soft, without getting the benefit of browning from direct contact with the pan.

But mushrooms aren't vegetables: their structural protein is lignin, not cellulose, so they react differently. You can crowd mushrooms, and they will release a lot of water and steam themselves, but they won't become soft like steamed vegetables. As long as they make contact with the pan after all the water has been driven off, you can crowd them as much as you like and it will make no difference.

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  • The difference it will make is that if you crowd your mushrooms, then by the time the water has boiled off and they have gotten a chance to brown, they will be much more heavily cooked (because they steamed for the time it took for the water to boil off, and then browned after that). In a sparser pan, you can brown them quickly without cooking them for as long (because what little water is released quickly boils off due to high surface area). Maybe you like heavily cooked mushrooms, but it's not "no difference."
    – A_S00
    Apr 5 at 18:56
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    It takes 10 times as long to steam-cook a mushroom to the equivalent level of, say, cauliflower, and they're almost impossible to overcook. It is true that in an uncrowded pan you will drive the water off more quickly, and the mushrooms will therefore steam for less time. But I doubt you would be able to tell the difference in a blind test. Apr 5 at 19:03
  • If you think mushrooms are nearly impossible to overcook, then it suggests you are targeting a much higher degree of doneness than I am talking about. Using a sparse (and hot!) pan is important if you are trying to get surface browning while the mushrooms still retain some of the "brittle" texture of raw mushrooms. I agree that if the texture you are targeting is "standard cooked mushroom texture," crowding makes no difference
    – A_S00
    Apr 5 at 19:07
  • @A_S00 : we don't know why the recipe said not to crowd the mushrooms, but Lee makes a valid point -- there have been a lot of "mythbusting" type reports out there, and people have shown that if you're trying to fully cook mushrooms, it's actually faster to steam them at the beginning to start the process of getting them to give off their moisture. But we don't know why the recipe said not to crowd, and so it's impossible to say if the recipe was based on bad science, or if the lack of steaming is important.
    – Joe
    Apr 5 at 19:46

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