Friday, February 17, 2012

Making Duxelles, Essence of Mushrooms

Duxelles is a finely chopped (minced) mixture of mushrooms, sautéed in butter and reduced to a paste. A bit of duxelles can be used in almost any dish, from an omelette to Beef Wellington... any place a bit of concentrated earthy mushroom flavor will add punch to the recipe.

Some folks add onions, shallots, and/or herbs when making duxelles. Since mine are to be frozen in cubes to add a mushroom flavor to some future dishes, I opted for James Beards' recipe that is just mushrooms and butter. That gives me the option to always add shallots and various herbs to whatever recipe I am making.

Since fresh mushrooms are not commonly available in my local markets, I tend to buy mushrooms whenever I'm out of town... and usually with no recipe planned in mind. As a result, I often waste part of the fresh mushrooms because I didn't get around to using them all before they got slimy. Occasionally I have canned a few fresh mushrooms, which by the way make great mushroom soup, but that's a LOT of work if you have only a few mushrooms!

However, turning fresh mushrooms into duxelles that I can freeze in cubes will give me lots of that wonderful concentrated mushroom taste to add to recipes. Frankly, I'm told they lose a tad of their punch in freezing, but they will also last for 2-3 weeks just refrigerated. I'm choosing possibly less than perfect mushroom taste over NO mushroom taste!

Since all the prep (chopping to a mince) for duxelles is a LOT of work, I bought 4 pounds of baby bellas to make a big enough batch that may last me several months.

Here's the recipe I used, followed by some of my photos of making duxelles. I've had the recipe for years and unfortunately, I don't have the recipe source...

Chop Away for Lovely "DUXELLES" by James Beard

I'm often surprised to find how few of my students are familiar with duxelles. It is one of the simplest and most versatile mixtures that you can have on hand in the refrigerator.

Despite the exotic name, which is derived from that of the Marquis d'Uxelles, whose chef invented the special way of cooking mushrooms. It is idiotically easy to prepare, provided you don't mind expending a little energy in chopping. Duxelles is nothing more than finely chopped mushrooms cooked down slowly in butter until they become a dense, dark mass, almost a paste, marvelous for adding concentrated flavor to any- thing from soups to stews to sauces and stuffing.

To make a reasonable amount worth the effort of all that chopping, buy two to three pounds of mushrooms. They don't have to be large, perfect, spanking white caps. They can be small, varied in size and a bit discolored. The taste is what matters, not the appearance, so you can buy those slightly overage mushrooms that are often reduced for quick sale in supermarkets.

Pick the mushrooms over, wiping off any dirt or bits of straw with a damp paper towel, then put them on a board and slice them, stems and all. (The slices need not be even; this is just so they are easier to chop.) I like to use a large heavy-bladed French chopping knife or a Chinese clever, because the chopping goes faster with a big blade. I don't recommend chopping them in a food processor -- they get too mushy.

Chop the slices by hand until the pieces are fairly fine, then put them in a sturdy dish towel, a piece of muslin or several thicknesses of cheesecloth, pull up the corners and twist the fabric into a bag so the mushrooms are pushed into a tight ball.  Then twist and squeeze as hard as you can with your hands to make them yield up a goodly amount of their liquid. It takes a good deal of force to extract as much liquid as possible, but keep on squeezing over a bowl until they seem comparatively dry.

Save the liquid for vegetable soup, a brown sauce or a stew that would be enhanced by a slight mushroom flavor. The point of this squeezing is that the mushrooms will cook down faster if there isn't a lot of excess liquid to evaporate.

Now melt one stick (a quarter-pound) of unsalted butter in a heavy 7- or 9-inch iron or stainless steel skillet over medium-low heat, open the cloth and tip in the mushrooms. Stir the mass with a wooden spoon to break it down and distribute it over the pan.

As they cook down, the remaining liquid will evaporate and the color will become very dark, almost black. This may take 30 minutes or more, and it is a process that you can't hurry.  When you have a thick, reduced mass that holds together, season to taste. Usually I don't add salt, only about eight to ten grinds of pepper, because it is my feeling that duxelles should be salted only as needed when it is added to a dish.

Transfer the duxelles to a crock or bowl and cool -- take a taste and you'll marvel at the intensity of that rich, buttery mushroom flavor -- and then cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Duxelles will keep for 10 days to two weeks under refrigeration.  It can be frozen, of course, but to my mind it loses something in the process.  However, better to freeze than leave to spoil, so use your judgment as to how quickly you'll use it up.

This glorious mixture has infinite uses. You can add it to soups, sauces, scrambled eggs; use it as a filling for omelettes and crepes; mix it in stuffings; swirl it into mashed rutabagas, turnips, celery root , potatoes or winter squash; combine it with peas; or spread it on toast, heat and serve as an hors d'oeuvre. The taste is so fantastic, the very essence of mushroom, that you'll find yourself dreaming up more and more possibilities.

There are different flavor variations for duxelles. You can add six or seven finely chopped shallots to the butter just before putting in the mushrooms, mix the two well and let them cook down. Or put six or eight peeled whole shallots or three or four unpeeled garlic cloves in with the mushrooms after they have started to cook, stir them around and remove them after the duxelles is cooked, which gives a slightly less assertive, but pleasant flavor.

One of my favorite ways to use duxelles is as the base for a quick, rich sauce for eggs, vegetables, poached fish filets or poached chicken. Combine one-half to one cup duxelles and one-half cup or more heavy cream in a saucepan and heat, stirring until it just reaches the boiling point. If you like, add about two tablespoons Madeira or a tablespoon of Cognac and heat until the spirit evaporates, leaving only the flavor.

So don't be put off by the name. Once you've made duxelles and discovered how great a flavoring it can be, you'll wonder how you ever cooked without it

Okay, here are my photos...

Slicing mushrooms

I discovered I could only mince a small portion at a time... I'm a messy chopper!

Mr. Beard says to squeeze out excess mushroom liquid. I failed with the first pound.

First pound cooked to almost nothing!

For the second batch (3 pounds), I chose to mince the mushrooms in my mini-chopper even though Mr. Beard says it produces a less than perfect texture. First, mincing a pile of mushrooms is a LOT of work, and secondly... when they are cooked into almost a paste, who can tell??
Second Batch (2 pounds) from the mini-chopper
I did a bit better on squeezing the second batch... probably got almost 3/4 cup of liquid, but they still gave off a lot more once in the heated pan. It takes a tremendous of upper arm/hand strength to squeeze the moisture out... I should have invited a weight-lifter! (Not getting the mushrooms dry enough just means more time cooking to release all the moisture before it cooks down into a paste.)

Cooking Down Duxelles

Here's the most amazing thing about this process... the first batch cooked and cooked and cooked (because they were so wet)... and finally all of a sudden the room was filled with the most amazing, potent mushroom smell... minutes before they were ready!! The second batch (and larger, 3 pounds) is cooking now as I'm writing this, but I expect I will know just by the smell when they are almost ready.

Mushroom Juice, and Duxelles from 4 pounds of mushrooms

I filled ice cube trays with the cooled duxelles (and also some of the squeezed-out mushroom juice, lower left) and froze them. I'll bag and vacuum seal 2-3 cubes together for the freezer. 11 cubes doesn't look like much for 4 pounds of mushrooms, but it's concentrated goodness, ready for some future meals! YUM!!

Note: For best mushroom results, please purchase only mushrooms with tightly-closed gills (the underside of the cap) which show freshness; if the gills are open, they are well past their prime. Store them in a brown paper bag in the crisper for best keeping.


  1. Yum! I will have to try this.

    How do you store your mushrooms such that they are getting slimy? Do you keep them in plastic?

    I store mine in brown paper bags in the fridge. If I don't use them, they just dehydrate in the bag and I can soak them for use later. You might try storing a few that way and see if they dry up nicely in your environment. Good to have options.

    1. Hey old friend, Good to see you!

      I've stored mine in brown paper sacks for many years. They don't really get slimy, but they don't dry out either. I think it's partly this old refrigerator... something in the auto defrost is amiss and I get water on the glass shelves and crisper drawers.

  2. Ah well, it was worth a try. :)
    Perhaps our dry western climate is easier on defrosters.


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