The wild mushrooms that you have gathered will contain varying amounts of water, depending on the species. Shaggy Inkcaps, for example, are like little sponges, and if you pick them on a wet day you can almost wring them dry like a dishcloth (except that they’d be ruined. Don’t do this.) Chanterelle, on the other hand, are relatively free of excess moisture.
How much water your mushrooms contain will become a concern when they are in the frying pan. As they heat up the moisture will be released, and it may soon seem as if you are stewing rather than frying. This is fine, but this liquid will need to be poured away or left to evaporate and reduce if you want your mushrooms to brown up nicely. My preference is to let the liquid reduce as the mushroom flavour will only intensify the more it concentrates.
Of course, as the moisture is released and then evaporates, the overall volume of solids in your pan inevitably shrinks, so don’t be surprised if sometimes the feast you were expecting ends up looking a bit meagre once cooked (just think of all the flavour that will be crammed into those morsels, all inky and succulent: superb!) You should therefore not be afraid to ‘overload’ your frying pan – in no time at all everything will settle into a single layer.
One other thing
Mushrooms need salt. Even the most robustly flavoured mushroom, such as the Prince, is only relatively so in comparison to its more delicate cousins. All that moisture (i.e. water) is mostly tasteless. So even if you are very conscious of your daily salt intake these days, I would urge you to give yourself a break when cooking wild mushrooms – they just aren’t the same without it.
A Rough Guide to Frying Wild Mushrooms
- Slice up your mushrooms along with half a garlic clove per 150g of mushroom, and some fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, sage or chives – but any herb will do really. You’ll need about a tablespoon for every 150g of mushroom.
- Melt some butter in a large pan with a little oil over a medium heat.
- Throw in the mushrooms along with a good pinch of salt and pepper (the salt will help to draw out the juices).
- Once the mushrooms are cooking and releasing their moisture, turn up the heat.
- Keep cooking on high until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms have started to take on a golden brown colour.
- Squeeze in some lemon juice, give everything a quick stir, then stir in the garlic and herbs. I always like to add the garlic at the end of cooking so to ensure that it doesn’t burn (burnt garlic is awfully pungent and can really ruin a dish).
- After about 20-30 seconds your mushrooms are ready. You can pile them onto hot buttered toast, or even put them in a sandwich. Stir into pasta with a little cream, or scatter on top of a risotto. You can even sit them on top of a bowl of hot soup, like I did with my Stinging Nettle Soup, or just have them on the side of whatever it is you’re having for tea.