Like wispy, mildly sweet threads of pure umami, enoki mushrooms exemplify the power of restraint. These light, thin mushrooms don’t hold up well to heat, at least not for more than a minute or two, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work around their fragility with creative — and innovative — techniques modified from basic frying, roasting and grilling.
Dry pan-roasting brings out the umami in enokis and imparts a pleasant bitterness you can’t get otherwise. You have to execute the dry pan-roasting technique quickly over high heat to keep the total cooking time under 1 minute for enokis. Dry pan-roasting is similar to sauteing, but you don’t use oil and you can’t stir the food in the pan — you have to toss it by flicking your wrist sharply. Heat a dry saute pan over high heat for 2 or 3 minutes, then sprinkle 15 to 20 enokis in it. Let the enokis sit until you smell a slight burning aroma, typically about 15 seconds, then quickly flick the pan to toss them. Cook them another 10 to 15 seconds, then slide the enokis onto a plate.
Regarded as the home turf of beef and other hearty proteins, the grill seems an unlikely place to find dainty, delicate enokis — for good reason. First, enokis are so thin that they fall through the grates, and second, tweezers work better than tongs at grasping them. However, barbecued enokis are possible with the right piece of cooking equipment, one not sold alongside the usual grilling utensils; use a stainless-steel strainer to grill enokis. It only takes a minute or 2 to grill enokis, and they look gorgeous when used as a garnish on the hearty steak you cooked alongside them. To grill enokis, lightly coat them with oil and place them in the strainer. Wearing a heat-resistant grill glove, hold the strainer on the grill and let the enokis cook for 1 to 2 minutes, tossing them occasionally.
Enokis’ thinness lends itself well to frying, which transforms them from tender hints of sweetness that melt in the mouth to crispy, golden bites that greet the palate with a combination of caramel and umami. Enokis need about 1/4 inch of 375- to 400-degree-Fahrenheit oil or fat to fry quickly and uniformly; you can easily cook them by adding a handful to the pan you used to fry a different food. They also take on the flavors of what was fried in the fat before it, so if you cook enokis in the rendered fat leftover from bacon, for example, they’ll infuse with a hearty pork flavor. Simply add the enokis to the hot fat and cook until golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes.
The residual heat of a hot soup, sauce or stir-fry cooks enokis through in 2 or 3 minutes. They readily take on the flavors of the dish to which you add them, so it won’t taste like you just tossed them in as an afterthought. Add enokis to the hot soup, sauce or stir-fry right before serving it.