With a large, flat cap that can measure six inches in diameter, portobellos (also commonly spelled portabellos or portabellas), are the largest cultivated mushroom variety. They are the fully mature version of cremino mushrooms, which is a variation of conventional white and brown mushrooms. With their firm texture and deep, earthy flavor, portobellos are among the most popular mushroom varieties in the world.
Portobellos weren’t always as mainstream as they are today. As recently as several decades ago, they were often disposed of due to their size and dark color. Smaller white and brown mushrooms were preferred for their clean appearance. Thanks to a heightened nutritional awareness and convincing marketing by various mushroom councils in the 1980s, portobellos came into favor with their versatility and rich taste. Since then, they’ve transformed from being a discarded fungus to one of the most consumed varieties.
As portobellos mature, their caps flatten to expose the gills, allowing moisture to evaporate. With the decreased water content, the mushrooms develop an intense flavor and dense, steak-like texture. Whether they’re grilled, sautéed or roasted, portobellos are often served as a meat alternative for vegans and vegetarians. They work well as either a supporting ingredient or a stand-alone entrée, served whole in a sandwich, sliced for salads or fajitas, and stuffed.
Freshly picked portobellos have round, light tan caps with tapered edges that darken as they mature. The gills on the underside of the cap should be dark and unbruised. Those with slightly wrinkled caps are okay to use because the key to portobellos is their maturity. To lengthen their shelf life, remove the portobellos from any packaging and keep them loosely wrapped in a paper towel.
Portobellos, like most mushrooms, should be gently wiped clean with a damp paper towel instead of washing, as the excess water can be quickly absorbed. The thick, woody stems should be removed, but save them for use in a vegetable stock or soup base.
No matter how you slice (or cook) them, portobellos are the king of mushrooms – both in size and in flavor.