I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Cooking is often a matter of managing moisture: keeping it in when you’re cooking meat, driving it out when you’re cooking vegetables.
The latter is true even for members of a prized category of plant-based cooking that are actually in-between plants and animals: fungi such as mushrooms. Their flesh is so spongy, you need to get rid of at least some of that water before they’ll brown, and if you don’t they can become a soggy mess rather than their savory ideal.
Two key steps to accomplishing this: Get your pan superhot (so any released moisture evaporates quickly), and avoid overcrowding them. I also like to cook them undisturbed for a bit, rather than sauteing, so they have a chance to sear and brown. That’s not always the easiest thing to do with oyster mushrooms, which are anything but flat. So I was intrigued by a recipe in Rita Serano’s latest cookbook that calls for you to top them with a weight as they cook — a la chicken under a brick.
I used a smaller cast-iron skillet, setting it on top of the mushrooms as they browned in a grill pan, and then turned them over and put the skillet back on top. When the moisture started releasing, I took off the top skillet so it wouldn’t trap that evaporation. The result: deeply browned, caramelized mushrooms with a firm-but-juicy texture.
What to do with them? There are tons of options, of course, from salads to grain bowls to tacos. But for this recipe, Serano has you pile them on soft burger buns with a red pepper mayo spiced with smoked paprika. When the mushrooms are cooked this well, it’s best to stay out of the way and let them shine.
Make Ahead: Leftover red pepper mayo can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
1/4 cup chopped jarred roasted red peppers, drained
3/4 cup mayonnaise (vegan or conventional)
1/2 teaspoon sweet or hot Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon apricot jam (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed
1 pound oyster mushrooms, tough stem ends trimmed
Vegetable oil, as needed
4 soft hamburger buns
4 large romaine or other lettuce leaves
1 ripe tomato, hulled and sliced
Flesh of 1 ripe avocado, sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Squeeze as much moisture as possible from the roasted red peppers, and pat dry with paper towel. Place in a mini food processor or blender, along with the mayo, smoked paprika, vinegar and jam, if using, and puree until smooth. (It will be pourable.) Taste, and add some salt, as needed. You will have about 1 cup.
Meanwhile, heat a grill pan over high heat. When the pan is very hot, grease it lightly with cooking oil spray or lightly brush with oil. Quickly add as many mushrooms as will fit without overcrowding, working in batches as needed. Place another cast-iron or other heavy skillet directly on the mushrooms, adding a can of tomatoes or other weight, if needed. (Alternatively, you can use a panini press to cook the mushrooms.)
Cook the mushrooms without disturbing them until they are dark brown on the bottom, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the top skillet just long enough to turn them over; place the top skillet back on the mushrooms and cook until they release their moisture, about 1 minute. Remove the top skillet; continue cooking until they are dry and dark brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a platter, then season them with the 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Return the grill pan to high heat. Place the bun halves, cut sides down, in the pan and cook just until lightly toasted.
To assemble, spread some of the mayonnaise on the cut sides of all the bun halves, then stack each bottom bun with lettuce leaves, mushrooms, tomato, avocado and red onion. Drizzle more mayonnaise over the filling, if desired, and top with the remaining bun halves.
Adapted from “Vegan for Good,” by Rita Serano (Kyle Books, 2019).
Tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The nutritional analysis is based on 2 tablespoons of mayo per serving.
Calories: 410; Total Fat: 27 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 15 mg; Sodium: 480 mg; Carbohydrates: 37 g; Dietary Fiber: 8 g; Sugars: 9 g; Protein: 12 g.