This Is the One Ingredient That’s Impossible to Overcook

This easy-to-find food is remarkably forgiving.

This is the One Ingredient That’s Impossible to OvercookShutterstock (3)

Whether you’re an award-winning chef or a beginning cook, there’s one food that’s hard to overcook, no matter how distracted you get.

“If you want to cook something really incredible, mushrooms are the answer,” says Eric Davis, spokesman for the California-based Mushroom Council. “Because you can’t mess them up!”

The food scientists at America’s Test Kitchen back this up. They compared beef tenderloin, portobello mushroom, and zucchini. After five minutes of steaming, all three were tender. But an additional five minutes of cooking turned the beef leathery and the zucchini mushy. Meanwhile, the structure of the portobello mushroom remained relatively unchanged.

The testers continued to cook all three foods for another 30 minutes. The meat got tougher and the zucchini got soggier. The mushroom got a little bit tougher, but even after 40 minutes of cooking, remained tender. The Test Kitchen’s verdict? Unlike other foods for which cooking temperature and time are critical to taste, “mushrooms are remarkably forgiving.” Make sure you’re not making any of these cooking mistakes that could be ruining your food, too.

Why? It all comes down to science, reports Cook’s Illustrated, the Test Kitchen’s magazine. The cell walls of mushrooms are made of a polymer called chitin. Chitin stays relatively stable in heat, unlike the pectin in vegetables and protein in meat.

A combination of straw mushroom, tea mushroom, shiitake mushrooms, etc. on a wooden board, gauze for backgroundchinasong/Shutterstock

“This unique structure allows us to quickly saute mushrooms for a few minutes or roast them for the better part of an hour, all the while achieving well-browned, perfectly tender specimens,” Cook’s Illustrated reports.

Davis agrees that mushrooms’ resilience goes back to their cellular structure, which allows them to remain firm yet soft in both experienced and novice hands.

“We would never recommend anyone to intentionally try to overcook a mushroom, or to saute it and go catch something on Netflix and come back,” Davis says. “Obviously, with any food, you want to cook it to the time that it requires.” Next, don’t miss these cooking mistakes that can make your food toxic.

Popular Videos

Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.