Portabellas, perfect for grilling all year long, are not some exotic new type of mushroom. They are criminis, a relative of the common cultivated white mushroom, that is grown for longer. The word sounds Italian, but calling them “portabella” was simply the brainstorm of marketing agencies to glamorize the large brown fungus that growers couldn’t sell. The campaign was successful and portabellas have found a prominent place on restaurant menus and supermarket produce bins.
Most of us first encountered this new mushroom in restaurant dishes sliced, sauteed and tossed with pasta; served marinated, or as grilled caps filled with sausage, marinara sauce and cheese. Now we even eat the meaty mushroom caps in place of hamburgers between buns, or as the bun.
Portabellas are commonly sold either as the whole caps with stems attached or already sliced. They have a concentrated, deep flavor with a dense, meaty texture that lends itself as a substitute for steak on the grill for both vegetarians and meat eaters. Besides grilling, these giant mushrooms impart full flavor and a satisfying texture when seared, roasted or braised.
• Refrigerate mushrooms in paper bags or toweling instead of plastic bags.
• Trim the stems of whole portabellas before cooking either by cutting with a paring knife, or grabbing the stem and twisting it off. Chop the stems for use in another recipe.
• Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with wet paper towels or quickly rinsing under cold tap water.
• To keep portabellas from turning black when cooked, removed the black gills with a spoon before cooking.
Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of “Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.”