When Katelyn Hilburn, owner of Madre Foods, first started selling broth at the Santa Fe farmers’ market in November, chicken and oxtail were always her top sellers. “I had to pitch the mushroom one more intensely,” she remembers. “I’d say, ‘It’s great that you’re into collagen, but mushrooms have benefits, too.’”
Now things have changed. “This year, all of a sudden I’ll get people asking about my mushroom broth,” she says. She’s not the only one making broth from mushrooms. Brodo, New York City’s hip broth chain, has a seaweed-and-mushroom offering, and the broth company Kettle and Fire has a chicken-and-mushroom broth in its lineup. And, while this might be a stretch to be considered broth, the Las Vegas Momofuku outpost recently added a cocktail with mushroom juice in it to its menu, too.
We hate to pat our own backs, but in 2018 we predicted that mushrooms were going to be America’s next big food darling. Why? Well, because they’re delicious, and they serve as a hearty, almost meat-like substitute for vegetarians. Mushrooms are also relatively high in protein, at least by weight (though you’d have to eat a lot of mushrooms to fulfill your protein needs). They contain vitamins C and D and minerals like phosphorous, magnesium, and potassium. Furthermore, they’re the rare crop that can be grown without clear-cutting forests, since fungi love shade. Mushrooms are also fairly good at rolling with climate punches, so they may do well on a warmer, wetter planet.
Meanwhile, the buzz over adaptogens has further lifted the humble mushroom’s reputation. Adaptogens are compounds found in plants that, according to some wellness practitioners, help the body adapt to stress. The peer-reviewed research here is sparse, with a 2014 study finding no benefit between an adaptogen supplement and a placebo. However, there is data showing that some mushrooms, particularly reishi, may suppress tumor growth.
But mushrooms aren’t cheap, which means when you shell out for fresh shiitakes or chanterelles, you should use every single bit of them. Enter mushroom broth—the best way to keep stems and bruised pieces out of your compost pile.
“We save all our mushroom bits,” says Jason Fox, chef at the Michelin-starred Commonwealth restaurant in San Francisco. “We really hate waste.” In Fox’s kitchen, a batch of mushroom broth is always going on a burner somewhere. “It’s a clean vegetable stock that has some meatiness to it,” he says, adding that mushrooms’ natural umami flavor brings richness to a dish without the need for animal protein. That’s something that Hilburn noticed, too, with her mushroom-broth offering. “I lot of people think there’s an animal component to it,” she says. “It has that weight and that nourishing component.”
Unlike bone broth, you don’t want to simmer mushroom broth for days on end, says Hilburn. Mushrooms are delicate, and you’re not actively trying to wring collagen from bones the way you are with bone broth. A few hours should be about all you need.
Exactly how much nutrition seeps into the broth is somewhat unknown. I looked for research showing the vitamin and mineral content of mushroom stocks and came up empty-handed. The closest I got was a 2017 study in the Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition that found that boiling mushrooms destroyed more of the antioxidants than grilling or—surprise—microwaving them. In one of the recipes below, Fox uses tepid water to make his broth. While he does it to preserve the flavor, it could make for a more nutritious broth, too.
Fox makes two kinds of mushroom broth at Commonwealth. One is dashi style, which is a traditional Japanese clear broth rich with umami flavor. In this preparation, the mushrooms cook slowly in just barely warm water, which “really pulls out the umami flavor,” he says. For a more intense broth, he’ll first sweat the mushrooms on the stove, then pressure-cook them.
Fox hates food waste so much that once he strains the mushroom bits out of his finished broth, he’s still not done with them—and you shouldn’t be either. Fox smokes the leftover bits in a stovetop smoker, then puts them in a dehydrator. On your next camping trip, mix these smoked and dried mushrooms into your freeze-dried dinner, and be prepared for your campmates to say, Now that’s some good shiitake.
Commonwealth’s Dashi-Style Mushroom Broth
- Mushroom scraps
- Aromatic veggies, like celery and onion
- Herbs and spices of your choice. Fox uses everything from Chinese five-spice powder and star anise to thyme.
Mix an equal proportion of mushroom scraps to water in a large pot. This recipe takes a lot of scraps, so save your mushroom trimmings over a few weeks by tossing them into a bag in the freezer. Add in celery and onion. Fox makes this broth by keeping the water at 65 degrees for 24 hours. An immersion circulator is the easiest way to accomplish this task. If you don’t have one, the low setting of your Crock-Pot will do. Strain, reserving the mushroom bits for another use.
Commonwealth’s Strong Mushroom Broth
- Mushroom scraps
- Aromatic vegetables
- Herbs: again, use what you like, but be aware that pressure cooking can intensify certain flavors
Sweat the mushrooms on a stovetop for a few minutes by sautéing them lightly and salting them. When they are soft and have released some liquid, pour the mushrooms, juices, and aromatic veggies into your pressure cooker. Add an equal amount of water and whatever spices you are using, plus a good hit of salt. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Let the pressure release from the cooker, then strain, reserving the leftover mushroom pieces for another use.
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