There are a few criteria any starring component in a stew should meet. Inherent savoriness. The ability to build fond, those rich‑tasting browned bits that develop on the pot’s interior surface when food is seared, forming a flavor foundation. And a balance of tenderness and resilience so that the simmering food turns pleasantly supple without losing structural integrity.
Mushrooms check all those boxes and offer so much range among fresh and dried varieties. Meaty portobellos and king oysters are unmatched in their substance, while dried varieties such as porcini and shiitake harbor some of the food world’s strongest umami potential. Together, they’re a powerful team that I wanted to leverage in one of the all-time most luxurious winter braises: bourguignon, the eponymous stew of Burgundy, France.
I cut 21/2 pounds of portobello caps into chunks and simmered them in a Dutch oven—a seemingly counterintuitive move when fond is the goal, but it’s the quickest way to collapse the mushrooms’ cells so that they give up their moisture and concentrate. I then uncovered the pot so that the liquid would evaporate and the pieces could brown in a little oil and build up a dark fond.
This dark, rich flavor base is all mushroom, made by simmering and then searing the portobellos. Cooking them in a little water helps them quickly shed their own moisture so that their sugars and proteins can brown.
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Mushrooms are so sturdy that I could have left them in the pot while I built the wine sauce, but I fished them out since I’d be straining the aromatics to make the sauce smooth. Into the fond-coated pot went carrots, a shallot, and garlic cloves, which I sautéed before deglazing the pot with a cup of Burgundy’s signature Pinot Noir. Then I added a few cups of water, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and an ounce of dried porcini plus tomato paste, soy sauce, and miso as umami-rich supports. After 25 minutes of simmering, I strained the liquid, added it back to the pot along with the portobellos and pearl onions (frozen work well), and continued to cook until the onions were tender. One more splash of wine gave the whole ensemble a bright boost.
There was savoriness in spades, but the stew lacked bourguignon’s luscious body and gloss. To keep it vegan, I thickened the sauce with an olive oil–based roux. I also reduced the cooking liquid to precisely 2 cups; that way, I was sure to nail the lush, satiny consistency that any good bourguignon should have.