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save our stems...for stock

Trimmings from assorted wild mushrooms.
Frilled, gilled, clubbed, conical, round, and flat, savory mushrooms are where it’s at.

Yes. I’m a mushroom fanatic. Possibly due to some ancestral mushroom-picking natural selection gained via my Polish heritage, but more likely because I enjoy umami over all other tastes.
Trimmings from assorted wild mushrooms.
For those unfamiliar with the term, umami (pronounced oo-MAH-mee) is the fifth basic taste, best described as a rich, savory, brothy or meaty taste sensation. Foods with umami have very distinctive savory aroma and mouthfeel qualities that present a satisfying sense of complete, full-bodied flavor.

Umami highlights sweetness and lessens bitter taste. Umami also counterbalances saltiness wonderfully, so it’s easy to reduce salt in a given recipe without compromising flavor.

Wild mushrooms are very, very generous in the umami department.

Unfortunately, wild mushrooms can also be very, very pricey. As in, $14 per quarter pound pricey. Ouch.

Many recipes call for only the mushroom cap or just part of the stem, cavalierly directing the cook to discard the rest. Ouch again.

I don't know about you, but eking out every delicious drop of rich, savory flavor from my most precious ingredients seems a smarter use of hard-earned money. Those perfectly edible stem bits can easily add pizzazz to all sorts of dishes.

Mushroom stems work best when chopped to a small, uniform size. A food processor makes short work of chopping large quantities of stems.

Add those chopped stems to soup bases, sauces, and stews.

Or sauté the chopped stems with whatever onions, shallots, garlic and fresh herbs are on hand, and use this as:

an omelet filling;
a bruschetta topping;
a spread on a hot open-faced sandwich;
an addition to meatloaf, meatballs, and burger patties;
an addition to stuffing, pasta and noodle dishes;
as a pâté base.

Or, use chopped leftover stems as a substitute for a similar savory ingredient.

Savory Mushroom-stuffed Mushrooms

12 stuffed caps, serves 4 as an appetizer

Assorted wild mushrooms.
This stuffed mushroom appetizer, developed to accommodate a seafood allergy, swaps out crabmeat for mushroom stems and shallots.

Although similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano cheese is less crumbly, milder and usually contains “cheese crystals”, which add an extra flavor pop. Feel free to use your favorite grating cheese instead.

  • 12 large stuffing mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup chopped wild mushroom stems (any assortment)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced shallots
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs (preferably from a day-old baguette or Italian loaf)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup mushroom stock (or your preferred stock)
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated Grana Padano cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare a baking dish by lightly oiling the bottom; set aside.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms. Set caps aside.

Trim off and discard any dark or hard spots on the stems, then finely chop. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter, then gently sauté the caps, gill side up, until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to prepared baking dish.

Reduce heat to medium, add olive oil, and heat to just shimmering. Add shallots and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds. Add chopped stems and 1/2 teaspoon salt; sauté until most of the released liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add wine and reduce about a minute more.

Remove mushroom mixture from heat, stir in breadcrumbs, rosemary, parsley, pepper, and salt to taste.

Divide mixture among the reserved caps, drizzle a teaspoon stock over each, and bake fifteen minutes. Sprinkle with Grana Padano and serve hot.
Leftover mushroom stems can also be frozen. I keep two containers in the freezer (one specifically for more woody stems), add stems as I go, and take out what I need.

Frozen mushroom stems are pretty soggy when thawed. Before chopping, wrap them in a coffee filter or piece of cheesecloth and wring over a small bowl, squeezing until dry. Save the juice and add that umami goodness to your recipe.

Woody or hard stems are destined for stocks and broths. Shiitake stems make a particularly nice broth, but beech mushroom stems, the fibery parts of an enoki bunch, or tough portabella stems are all fair game.

Basic Mushroom Broth

Yield: about 8 cups

Basic mushroom stock simmering in a slow cooker.
To intensify the mushroom flavor, the strained stock is reduced, uncovered.

A slow cooker is used for unattended broth rendering, but the entire recipe can just as easily be simmered, then reduced on a cooktop (about 1.5 hours.)

The combination of stems, aromatics, and water makes this a thin, fat-free broth. If more body is your fancy, first sauté any veggie ingredients in 2 tablespoons of butter, oil or fat of choice, then proceed as written.

  • 2 cups mushroom stems
  • 10 cups water
  • Aromatics of choice:
    1 large onion, sliced; 2 carrots and 1 celery rib cut into large chunks; 1 garlic clove, sliced; half-dozen parsley stems; teaspoon black peppercorns; dried herb of choice.
  • or
    2-inch peeled ginger root, sliced into ¼” thick discs; 1 leek, sliced, 1 garlic clove, sliced; handful of cilantro stems; peppercorns or other herb of choice.
  • or
    Your personal favorite stock seasonings.
Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours. Strain, discarding solids.

Transfer strained broth to a medium saucepan, and simmer uncovered over low heat until reduced to 8 cups, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt.