I hereby humbly declare this recipe the definitive embodiment of the most perfect cooking on earth. I invite naysayers to deny it, but I warn them that their cries of fried chicken, foie gras, Maryland blue crabs and “barbecued ribs” will go unheeded. Nothing is so simple and nearly nothing is so delicious as folding sliced mushrooms in a sheet of parchment paper, dotting them with butter, herbs and salt, and then baking them for ten minutes. I assume this is how the cavemen cooked mushrooms. I imagine they delicately tore open the paper packaging and let the mushroom-scented steam rise to their mangy nostrils, tossing aside their fatty pterodactyl livers and hickory-smoked mammoth meat. “Garrrr,” they humbly declared, “this is the most perfect cooking on earth.”
I also assume they knew how to properly choose and store mushrooms. The recipe that follows calls for wild mushrooms. Wild mushrooms are rarely “wild,” in that the mushrooms we find at markets are usually farmed and not foraged. That’s okay. (But inauthentic. The cavemen foraged.) Choose portobellos or shiitakes, or even oysters or chanterelles if they are available. Do not use the ubiquitous plain white mushrooms or canned mushrooms. Do not use mushrooms found in your bedroom, bathroom or drug baggie. (Please note this as a general rule for all produce.) Mushrooms at the market should be firm and clean and not at all shriveled or torn. They should smell subtly of dirt and fungus, and not plastic, bleach or mildew. (Another general rule.) You should store them in a paper bag — for Christ’s sake, not plastic! — in the refrigerator, and cook them within 2-3 days.
When you’re ready to cook and you’ve assembled the mushrooms in their simple, delicious and generally perfect packages, place them in the oven, sit back and relax (for no longer than 5-10 minutes). The mushrooms will cook themselves. That’s how perfect cooking works. If you doubt it, ask the cavemen. If for some reason you cannot ask them, you’ll just have to trust me. Fortunately, I am both a very humble and very serious cook.
(Final note: this recipe is adapted from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables. Ms. Waters is, of course, a founding proponent of the Caveman-cuisine movement.)
Recipe: Mushrooms Baked in Parchment Paper
Active time: 15 minutes. Actual time: 25 minutes. Serves 4.
2 lbs. portobello, shiitake, chanterelle or oyster mushrooms
12 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from stems
3 tbsp. butter or olive oil
1 tsp. salt
Freshly grated black pepper
Parchment paper (available at most supermarkets)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Remove the stems from the mushrooms. Gently rub the caps with a wet cloth, to clean them. If you are using portobellos, remove the dark ribs on the undersides with a spoon. Slice the mushrooms into 1/3-inch-thick pieces. Fold an 18-inch sheet of parchment in half, unfold it and lay it flat, and place the mushrooms on one half of it.
3. Sprinkle the thyme over the mushrooms. Dot them with tiny pieces of butter or a thin drizzling of olive oil. Add a few gratings of pepper and an even sprinkling of salt.
4. Fold the other side of the parchment over the mushrooms, as if you were wrapping a package. Beginning at one corner, take the top and bottom sheets of parchment and make small overlapping folds, rolling them tightly to enclose the mushrooms. Continue like this all the way around the package. When you reach the other corner, twist it tightly to seal it closed. Check to make sure the package is closed and more or less airtight.
5. Bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until fragrant. They will puff up with steam. When you tear open the packages, the steam will escape and smell wonderful. Serve immediately.