Portabella mushrooms

Does anyone really like cooking with these? These are like the Chicken McNuggets of the mushroom world. The only thing I've ever been able to do with them and their baby sister cremini is to turn them into duxelles. And of course the names are just American marketing names for brown mushrooms. If you can find an authentic Italian, French or Spanish recipe that actually refers to portabella I will happily autograph a baseball card for you. Last night I had to chef a community meal with a Basque theme without my usual team. One of my cooks (who happens to be English)represents the Hamas vegetarian wing of the food community insisted that portabellas be included. She wouldn't give up even though it didn't match the menu. But seriously, and I love good mushrooms, do any of you guys like these things? To me they have almost no flavor, and whatever flavor there is is usually not very pleasing.

  • Posted by: pierino
  • April 20, 2012


Pegeen April 27, 2012
I love them sliced and sauteed long and slow with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Taste as you go and add more of any of those three things as needed. Simple and delicious.
Greenstuff April 27, 2012
Thanks for the expanded story, pierino. I live in Berkeley, so I totally "get" the opinionated vegan faction. Good thing that they at least eat mushrooms in Basque country--it could've been an even bigger challenge.
mrslarkin April 27, 2012
I don't use them much. But I do buy the baby bellas sometimes. They are very tasty. I make mushroom mousse with the baby bellas - delicious.
Greenstuff April 27, 2012
I don't buy portabellas myself and am dying to hear why anyone would insist on them for a Basque meal (I've cooked my share of those). But, if I'm at a meeting that includes lunch... If one sandwhich is portabella mushroom, roasted pepper, and goat cheese, while the other choice is a salty, processed slice of turkey with a limp lettuce leaf, then hands down, I'll go for the mushroom.'
pierino April 27, 2012
Greenstuff, I found myself stuck cheffing a meal without my usual team---we always work with a theme. One of the subs I got stuck with (hard core vegan) basically stamped her foot and insisted on including portabellas. I gave in just to get her to shut up so I could focus on the rest of the meal which turned out fine. But that's kind of what set me off on this topic. And as ChefOno noted above it really is just a common brown mushroom with a fancy new name.
petitbleu April 27, 2012
I love mushrooms of all kinds, and while I agree that portabella mushrooms aren't as flavorful as others, they'll do in a pinch, and they still have that mushroomy umami flavor I love. I don't go out of my way to buy them, but I find them to be useful stuffing mushrooms (that is, mushrooms stuffed with some sort of filling).
I also tend to agree with Sam1148--portabellas are an "accessible" mushroom, and while there are more flavorful mushrooms out there, portabellas are just fine.
sexyLAMBCHOPx April 21, 2012
Try it with aheavy handful of chopped cilantro, Pierno.
Sam1148 April 21, 2012
They are available and relatively cheep. If you can't make them taste good, that's a failure of the cook not the ingredient. Offal was often derided as being 'cheep' and peasant food and trending now that we're supposed to be austere, chowing down on 30 dollar plates of pork cheeks thinking 'oh how great peasant food is if treated right' or we're "eating snout to tail' when in fact your eating trending stuff re purposed for wealthy people paying big bucks to 'slum' in the culinary world.

While there are much better mushroom available, sometimes they aren't accessible to most people or cost prohibitive and frankly most people except the very dedicated wouldn't care in a party situation.
and portabells (brown mushroom). make a great mushroom soup..or on pizza, omeltes or stuffed with spinach. In most of America there were unheard off until the early 80's. Prehaps one day we'll get more flavorful mushrooms available to mid-America, and I can see it happening as Shiataki and semi dried 'wild' chantrells are appearing at my local store. (still expensive).
SKK April 21, 2012
I do not like portabella mushroom any more than I like zucchini.

They both take on the flavors rather than have a flavor of their own.

That being said, the definition of Hamas is "supporters as a legitimate fighting force defending Palestinians from a brutal military occupation" Not sure how that applies to a vegetarian cook.

Oh pierino, I cannot resist your questions.
susan G. April 21, 2012
And who had the foolish idea that they constitute a vegetarian burger? Hard to eat, hardly a protein source -- umami on bread. Hope for a tasty sauce.
ChefOno April 21, 2012

"Hamas vegetarian wing of the food community" that's pretty funny.

I find the small ones useful, certainly more flavorful than their white cousins. I've occasionally used the large ones, sliced, to add umami to dishes and since they have a more concentrated flavor than the little guys, I'll substitute them if the cost is right. I'm not much of a mushroom guy so take all that with a grain of salt.

I have to object to your challenge about finding portabella's in any "authentic" recipes because I know you know that name, as well as "crimini" only date back to the 80's. There are plenty of recipes calling for "brown mushrooms" though which are, in fact, the same species and date back to the 1700's.
pierino April 21, 2012
ChefOno you are absolutely correct on the provenance of brown mushrooms. But my comment was to the point that you are as unlikely to find a "portabella" on the menu in a restaurant in Italy as you are to find a caesar salad. What marketers have figured out is that you can take an unpopular item, give it a fancy new name and Americans will buy it. Other examples; slime fish from New Zealand became orange roughy, Patagonian tooth fish became Chilean sea bass (even though it's not actually a bass). Starbucks has built an empire doing this sort of thing.
ChefOno April 21, 2012

On one hand it seems silly (to put it politely). On the other hand, isn't the net effect a good thing -- otherwise wasted food bringing producers new profits, the public exploring new experiences?

I just hope those clever marketing people get busy and rescue pink slime.
pierino April 21, 2012
ChefOno, on the other hand the fancy new name, Chilean sea bass, has almost destroyed the fishery. Mostly do to poaching. This wasn't a case of marketing something that might otherwise be wasted.
ChefOno April 21, 2012

Okay, my answer was a little sloppy. I was thinking about portobellos originally going to waste. In the case of overfishing, I'd have to say that is an example of marketing being too effective. One could make the same argument about Starbucks too I suppose.

LLStone April 20, 2012
That's funny, because I love them. In fact, I had them tonight in a quesadilla - portabellas and red onions that were sauteed, added roasted red peppers, melty white cheese (just a little) avocado, cilantro, sour cream, etc. They were really good quesadillas with portabellas!. I think the flavors are so much better than button mushrooms for an 'only mushroom dish;, but I will certainly cry uncle that they aren't the best tasting that might beavailable. But they are easy and affordable. And, I live in Indiana, which makes my mushroom shopping probably a little different than yours!
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