Recipe of the Week: Julia Child’s sautéed mushrooms in butter

Today’s post is the sixth in a series of weekly Julia Child recipes. This week, project management assistant Laura McClure shimmies and shakes her way to a delectable dish of sautéed mushrooms, Julia style.

“A magnetic holder screwed to the wall is a practical way of keeping knives always within reach.”

 

Chef's Knife

Julia Child kept most of her knives, including this 10-inch stainless-steel chef’s knife, on magnetic strips mounted above the kitchen sink. There they were within reach, while ensuring that after washing, the knives could be safely and easily stored, preserving their finely honed edges for another round of slicing, dicing, and chopping. 

 

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While Julia was a self-described “knife freak,” this week’s cook, Laura McClure, found she needed a trip to the knife store before starting her recipe.

Where to Find the Master Recipe

  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, p. 513
  • The French Chef cookbook, p. 151
  • A variation from suite101

Laura's Story

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

I can’t sleep so this seems to be the perfect time to begin my Julia sautéed mushroom blog! Most of my cooking depends upon my microwave for two reasons: 

  1. Quantity: I’m cooking for one 
  2. Lack of time: I work full time and go to school 

On the rare occasions that I do cook something using a non-microwave heat source, it’s pasta or a Bundt cake. I have many cookbooks which I inherited from my mother and grandmother, which mainly consist of casseroles, pies, and casserole-pies. I enjoy cooking when I do! I like the organization of prepping and find it so satisfying when a recipe turns out tasty. I think I have a fairly decent palate which helps in the kitchen and I’m an excellent problem solver (I’m always missing one ingredient).

Recently, I gave up meat, so I wanted to find a recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking that would be vegetarian, fast, and easy. There were many vegetable choices but mushrooms seemed like the absolute easiest. 

On Saturday, I went to the farmer’s market and got a brown bag of handsome little Portobello mushrooms. According to Julia, I’m to remove the stems and then soak in cold water. 

Then I’m to gently rub the schmutz from the cap and the “gills.” If the bowl of water is dirty after this, I repeat the process. 

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The water is still very dirty. Dirty with mushroominess. After the third wash/soak/massage, little pieces from the cap are falling off. Am I cleaning these guys too much? Am I doing this correctly? 

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My past mushroom preparations consisted of rinsing them in a colander and rubbing them each once or twice to get all the dirtiness away. And I normally keep the stems on. However, I’m playing by Julia’s rules.

I’m instructed to dry the mushrooms on a towel. When I do this, brownness comes off on the towel. Are they still dirty? Or is that the mushroominess wiping off? Did I mention it’s like 4:30 a.m.?!

Julia says to use a straight edge knife to slice. Uh-oh. I don’t have one of those. Mine are all serrated. Did I mention that I usually am missing one ingredient? She also says that when sautéing mushrooms, they should be dry. These are wet and losing their mushroominess with every dab. I shall set them out on a paper towel and let them dry until after work! 

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. 

Just got home from work and class. I’m looking forward to cutting mushrooms with my new knife. I purchased this particular knife mainly because it was pink. All the other knives were regular knife colors—gray and black—but this was all pink and seemed friendlier. Knives and knife skills were an important component in Julia’s cooking. In The Way to Cook, she said, “"Practice every chance you get, in order to slice with speed and style."

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I cut my first mushroom just like the illustration in the book, with as much speed and style I could muster without losing any blood. I did experiment with a serrated knife and it chewed and tore the spongy flesh of the mushrooms. My super-sharp pink knife cut clean and fast. I’m really surprised how much difference this new knife makes. 

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I then melt 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan. When the butter/oil finishes bubbling, I add the mushrooms. I’m scared of burning the butter, so I hover over the pan with bowl of mushrooms in hand. This is all happening so fast! Butter FROTHY! Mushrooms GO! They look so nice in the butter.

No TIME to observe the organic beauty of my mushrooms! Must toss and shimmey the pan for 4 – 5 minutes. Toss, shimmey, shimmey, toss. The butter is absorbing into the mushrooms. Julia said this would happen! 

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More shimmey! More toss. Five minutes is a really long time. Must shimmey, must shake, must toss mushrooms. I feel like I’ve been doing this for a long time. But still have two minutes to go . . . After 4 minutes, they are light brownish and look very different from before: time to take them away from the heat.

These are browned nicely but I’m concerned they maybe overcooked. They looked pretty shriveled. However, they smell really good. Anything cooked in real butter smells really good. I’m going to boil some Udon noodles and mix them all together!

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My sautéed mushrooms are delicious. I don’t know if they are overdone, but they are flavorful and chewy. I can taste the richness of the butter; it really accentuates the woody essence of these little fungi. This recipe can be a quick and easy dinner for anyone who has a sauté pan, a straight knife, and an appreciation for mushrooms. Julia knew how to cook some mushrooms. This has inspired me to cook using non-radiation heat methods. 

Follow-up

It’s been a few weeks since I first sautéed mushrooms the Julia way. I have been purchasing mushrooms every week and making them the same way. I de-stem and clean the mushrooms and then let them dry overnight. They hang out in a bowl on my counter until slice and cook time! Julia has taught me that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious.

Do try this at home!

We invite you to join with us in this celebration of Julia Child’s life, work, and contributions to American culinary history. Please share your experiences making Julia Child’s recipes by posting your story, photos, or video on our Tumblr page for this recipe series. Don’t forget to check back next week for sole meunière.

Laura McClure is a project management assistant at the National Museum of American History.