Nigel Spence: How to Make Pan Roasted Portobello Mushrooms

nigel spence portobello

Whenever I am asked how to substitute for the deep savory flavor of a steak while on a plant-based diet, on the top of my list would be mushrooms, and more specifically, portobello mushrooms.

Portobellos come large, thick and meaty. They are very hearty with a dense texture that is satisfying and filling therein making them a natural replacement for meat. The deep earthy flavors and the thick meaty slices marry well with any type of brown sauce or your favorite steak sauce, which makes them a top-notch candidate to be the main focus of your plate. In addition to them being nutrient dense, they are surprisingly low in calories so they are perfect for weight loss.

A little-known fact is that portobellos are simply the grown-up version of cremini mushrooms, which is why creminis are sometimes referred to as “baby bellas”.

The key to success is to choose large, thick mushroom caps and marinating them.                

Use ingredients that support and enhance their natural earthy flavor. I learned from Chef Jacque Pepin many, many years ago that older mushrooms pack more “mushroomy” flavor, so when I am at the supermarket, I always check for the marked down “managers special” mushrooms that are past their showroom ready state.  

I am also a fan of keeping the gills on the underside of the mushroom intact as they too pack a flavor punch, though some purists prefer it removed. Be sure to clean the mushrooms well and remove the stem to have the cap resemble a burger patty for easier navigation while cooking.

After doing this the first time you will wonder why this wasn’t a staple in your kitchen before.




2 large Portobello mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed

2 Tablespoons virgin Coconut oil

1 Tablespoon vegan Butter

Pimento liqueur (or favorite Brandy)


2 Tablespoons Soy sauce

½ Tablespoon Olive oil

1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper sauce (favorite store brand)

1 teaspoon Garlic, minced

1 teaspoon Onion powder

½ teaspoon minced Ginger, fresh grated


Find a baking dish that will fit both mushroom caps, gill side up.

 Add all marinade ingredients to a small bowl and stir until well incorporated.

Add marinade to mushrooms by carefully pouring around the entire circumference of the mushroom cap, equally distributing the marinade between both caps.

Allow to sit for 30 minutes.

Heat a heavy skillet or cast-iron pan over medium heat and add coconut oil.

Add the mushrooms gill side up and pan roast them until they begin to soften and caramelize, about 5 – 6 minutes.

Flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Continue until the mushrooms are cooked and soft, but still hold their shape. Remove mushrooms and let them sit for 5 minutes. Allowing them to rest for a few minutes before slicing helps to retain the juices and flavor.

Deglaze the pan using Allspice liqueur, or your favorite brandy, being careful not to burn yourself when the alcohol ignites. When the alcohol stops burning, turn the heat to low and add vegan butter and stir to create a pan sauce from the cooking liquid left behind. Remove from the heat, slice the mushrooms into thick slices, then plate them fanning the slices out on the plate. Drizzle the sauce from the pan over the mushrooms.

Serve with mashed potatoes, spinach or your favorite starch or veggie.

Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavor.

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