Illustration by Kristy Heilenday
Think of the cremini mushroom (or “baby bella”) as the Agaricus bisporus middle child. A more mature version of the button mushroom, but not yet grown to the stature of its large-capped older sibling the portobello, the cremini is small and versatile, but still deep in flavor, without middle-child syndrome: This fungus gets a ton of well-deserved attention on the plate, and has for centuries.
Evidence dates edible mushrooms to ancient civilizations, especially to China, where they were used for culinary and medicinal purposes. This particular strain was first recorded in the late 19th century, though its cultivation occurred much earlier — most notably in France in the early 18th century. Today, it’s cultivated throughout the world, both farmed and wild.
WHAT TO BUY
Stop by your local farmers market or grocery store and you’ll probably find these light-brown beauties. Look for dry, smooth, unblemished caps, as well as gills that are covered by a thin veil of mushroom skin. Avoid anything that looks slimy. Once home, store them immediately in the fridge, preferably in a paper bag.
HOW TO PREPARE
Rinse, but don’t soak, the mushrooms before cooking. Their firm texture makes them ideal for prep in a pan or the oven, but they’re also fabulous raw. If you’re looking to make natural flavor sing, try a simple sauté with butter and fresh herbs.
Garam Masala and Red Wine Mushrooms
By Mel Oza of Curry Craft
2 ounces of canola oil
½ teaspoon of cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of finely chopped ginger
1 teaspoon of finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons of 1/4-inch diced onions
½ teaspoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 cups of cremini mushrooms, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ teaspoon of kosher salt
2 pinches of coarse-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of finely chopped cilantro
3 ounces of full-bodied red wine (Côtes du Rhône is preferred)
1 tablespoon of room-temperature butter
2 pinches of garam masala
Place a heavy-bottomed, 2-inch-deep, nonstick pan over medium heat, and add the canola oil. Once the oil is heated, add the cumin seeds and let them crackle until they are browned, then add the ginger and garlic and stir constantly. After the garlic browns, add the onions and cook until they become translucent. While the onions sweat, add the rosemary, followed by the mushrooms, and continue stirring. Once the mushrooms begin to break down, add the salt and mix well. When the mushrooms become slightly soft, add the black pepper and cilantro and mix thoroughly. Add the red wine and slightly increase the heat to burn off the alcohol, and cover to bring to a boil for approximately 2 minutes. When the mixture is boiling, remove the lid, slightly reduce the heat and add half of the butter. Once the wine has almost evaporated, add the remaining butter and cook for a few more minutes until the mushrooms develop a sheen; once they do, turn the heat off, sprinkle with garam masala, stir and serve. This is an excellent side dish with red meat or game. Alternatively, it can be mixed in a salad with greens and lentils or used as a layer in a sandwich or burger.