CLEANING WILD MUSHROOMS
I can still hear the various chefs I worked under, admonishing the cooks with a slight rise in their collective voice, to never expose wild mushrooms to water after harvest. Their preferred method of cleaning--one they all shared!--was a tedious process requiring a small brush that was used to clean all of the crevices and creases of each mushroom by hand, one after the other. Somehow this warning and method filtered down to home cooks, and over time, the thought of all that painstaking brushing became a real consideration when deciding whether or not to purchase wild mushrooms. I continue to be asked, at farmers markets and in the grocery story, "What's is the best way to clean these mushrooms?"
Mushrooms are ninety percent water, a fact that makes me question the logic behind working so diligently to keep them dry. What harm could there possibly be in giving a water-based ingredient a quick rinse and dry if it allows the cook to accomplish the task of cleaning with success and ease? Consider too that sauteeing mushrooms over high heat--the best way to cook them--will draw out any moisture and cause it to evaporate.
During the course of fall, rains here in the Pacific Northwest can be counted on to increase, along with the size of the mushrooms, which are also taking on more water. More water means a longer cooking time, usually longer even than the time it takes to clean them. (Wet, muddy, pine-needle covered mushrooms are the toughest to clean.) When a handful of wet mushrooms hits a hot pan, they release all of their water content. Cooking the mushrooms, then, is a matter of reducing the liquid they give up, which is incredibly flavorful. When no moisture remains in the pan, the mushrooms will begin to brown, and can be finished with shallots, parsley and a touch of butter.
This is my preferred technique for cooking a panful of fresh mushrooms, whether they are chanterelles, matsutaki, morel, porcini or any other wild mushroom variety.