Did you buy a paper bag of oyster mushrooms and are now wondering what to do with them? This garlicky Alfredo sauce is a perfect way to enjoy brown oyster mushrooms. You’ll love the creamy texture & earthy flavors in this sauce. Make extra sauce because it freezes well. Trust me, you’ll want leftovers for tomorrow.
Oyster mushrooms are so called because of their beautiful fan-shaped caps which resemble the frilly gills of oysters. Some people think the flavor of oyster mushrooms resembles their bivalve namesake. One thing that’s for sure is oyster mushrooms are every bit the delicacy of their seafood cousins. Luckily, they’re much easier to grow in your living room than the salt-water mollusk.
As we lovingly spritzed our mushrooms multiple times a day, I had my eye on making a creamy pasta dish with oyster mushrooms. After all, I knew it was one of the best ways to showcase these flavorful fungi (not because I’m always looking for an excuse to eat more noodles).
Let’s learn how to make this simple creamy oyster mushroom sauce for pasta (and all sorts of other foods). Plus, I offer substitution ideas to make this dish as flexible as possible (yes, even for the vegans).
What kind of mushrooms to use
My version of Alfredo sauce uses brown oyster mushrooms that we grew on our fireplace mantle. (Growing mushrooms is fun! Consider trying it once.) If you can buy oyster mushrooms, it’s worth using them for this creamy pasta sauce. They’re packed with an earthy flavor and add a meaty mouthfeel to your dish.
If brown oyster mushrooms are hard to find, you can easily substitute with other kinds of oyster mushrooms, including grey, blue, yellow, pearl, pink, white, or king oyster mushrooms.
If you can’t find oyster mushrooms or they’re beyond your budget, you can substitute them with your favorite kind of mushrooms, whether that’s portobello, white button, crimini, shiitake, porcini, or chanterelle mushrooms. Different kinds of mushrooms will introduce a variety of flavors so you can also add a mushroom mix.
RELATED: Check out a video of the exotic mushrooms we encountered at the Fungi Fair.
Where to buy oyster mushrooms
We grew our oyster mushrooms from a kit. I highly recommend the experience because it is fun to spray the mushrooms with water and see them doubling in size overnight.
If you’re strapped for time, you can buy mushrooms. I typically find oyster mushrooms in conventional grocery stores like Safeway, Asian grocery stores, and higher-end grocery stores like Whole Foods.
I’ve also purchased oyster mushrooms from the farmers’ market. There’s usually a fungi vendor at most farmers’ market. They sell high-quality, freshly harvested mushrooms, which are excellent for this creamy pasta sauce recipe.
How long should you cook the sauce?
Most Alfredo sauce recipes recommend you simmer the sauce until it reduces by half the volume. It took me simmering the sauce for 30 minutes to reduce it by half. Since I’m always looking for a better way, I thought about why we reduce the sauce. Reducing the cream offers 3 benefits:
- Concentrates the flavors in the sauce
- Cooks the stipe (the stem part of the mushroom) until it is tender
- Thickens the sauce
Since you can boil the noodles while the sauce is reducing, you’re not really standing around for 30 minutes stirring.
Nonetheless, if I can cut down the 30 minutes, I’m going to do it. As a believer in flexible cooking, you are welcome to cook the sauce for less time, especially if you’re in a hurry.
TIP: Chop the mushrooms into a finer dice. Smaller mushroom pieces releases flavor faster. Smaller bits also cook faster (remember, the goal is tender mushrooms).
If you are satisfied with a less concentrated flavor, you can simmer the cream and butter for 5-10 minutes while you’re cooking the pasta noodles. Then add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, stir to combine, and the sauce is ready to eat.
WARNING: If you’re tempted to simmer the sauce at a higher heat to reduce the sauce faster, avoid going higher than medium heat. Also, the cream that touches the bottom of the pan has a higher chance of burning or curdling when the sauce cools. Make sure you’re always scraping the bottom of the pan when you’re stirring so you don’t leave the bottom of the sauce to burn against the pan.
Creamy pasta with mushrooms variations
Reading all the different ways to make creamy pasta or Alfredo sauce provides a lot of inspiration for add-ins. Here are ideas on how you can upgrade the core recipe:
Chicken: Cooks on the Internet seem to love chicken fettuccine Alfredo. It’s super easy to add chicken to your creamy pasta sauce.
- Cut 1 lb/455g of boneless chicken breast or thighs into 1 inch/2.5 cm strips (follow these instructions from the chicken stir fry recipe as an example).
- Add the chicken strips after the aromatics.
- Cook until the chicken is golden on both sides.
- Remove the chicken from the heat and set aside.
- Pour in the cream and continue with the recipe instructions.
- Add the chicken back to the pan before adding the grated cheese.
TIP: Check the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink in the middle. Use a meat thermometer if you have one to make sure the internal temperature is at least 165° F/74° C, according to the FDA.
Broccoli: Steam or parboil 1-2 cups of broccoli florets while you’re simmering the cream. Drain well. Add the cooked florets to the creamy sauce before you mix in the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Spinach: Add a few handfuls of baby spinach leaves to the simmering cream before adding the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Tomatoes: You can add ripe tomatoes or canned tomatoes (drain the canned tomatoes). Chop roughly into big chunks. Add the tomatoes after the Parmigiano-Reggiano and turn off the heat immediately. Because the acid from the tomatoes may curdle the cream, avoid simmering the tomatoes in the cream. Mix to combine and serve immediately.
How to substitute ingredients
Make this recipe vegan by replacing the cream and butter with 2 cups of raw cashews soaked overnight in water, 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast, and 2 cups of a non-dairy milk (almond, cashew, coconut, soy, or macadamia milk). You’ll need to blend the nuts, nutritional yeast, milk, and cooked aromatics (garlic, shallots) in a blender to make a smooth white sauce. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the mixture when you return it to the pan. Proceed to simmer the sauce and add grated vegan Parmesan cheese.
NOTE: I recommend you find a well-tested vegan recipe online for vegan Alfredo sauce. Here are tips on how to find good recipes and how to identify if a recipe is thorough and well-tested.
Substitute olive oil with a neutral oil, like canola oil or vegetable oil.
I highly recommend Parmigiano-Reggiano because you can taste the difference, according to our taste test experiment. That said, it’s OK to use Parmesan if that’s all you have at home. You could also substitute with another aged hard cheese that will add umami, such as Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano.
Substitute the spaghetti with any kind of pasta shape you like. Angel hair, fettuccine, linguine, or even bow ties work well with this creamy pasta sauce. You can substitute with a gluten-free pasta. Just cook the noodles according to the package instructions.
Tips for success
- Add white wine: For deeper and more complex flavors, you can add 1/4 cup of dry white wine to the aromatics after browning them. Deglaze the pan and scrap away the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. This step is optional.
- Cook the pasta last while the sauce is simmering: I don’t understand why many recipes instruct you to cook the pasta first before making the sauce 🤷♀️. It makes no sense to me. I like to boil the pasta just before serving it because the pasta stays hot and has less time to become mushy. If you’re new to cooking and uncomfortable with multitasking, then you can finish the creamy sauce completely. Then turn off the heat and cook the pasta.
- Use a sauté pan with tall sides or a sauce pan: You don’t want to add the cream to a shallow frying pan and have it overflow all over your cooktop burner. Make sure your sauté pan has tall enough sides to contain the volume of liquid you’re pouring in. If you’re not confident, switch to a sauce pan.
- How to scale the recipe: The recipe can be doubled or tripled easily. Just make sure your pan is tall enough to handle the additional volume.
- Avoid adding water: I read this Stack Exchange about how adding water made the sauce too thin even after reducing for 30 minutes. You don’t need water for this recipe. Remember, you’re going to add some leftover pasta water to thin out the sauce when you toss it with the pasta so that fixes any fears you may have about the sauce being too thick.
TIP: If you want to add liquid for whatever reason, add white wine or broth (chicken or vegetable) for extra flavor to go along with the liquid.
Creamy pasta with brown oyster mushrooms (and zucchini noodles)
- Chopping Board
- Sauté pan
- Mixing Bowl
- 2 cups (473 ml) Heavy whipping cream
- 2 cups (130 g) oyster mushrooms, substitute with any kind of mushrooms you like
- 1.6 oz (45 g) Parmigiano-Reggiano, about 1.5 cups grated using a zester grater
- 4 tablespoons (60 g) Butter, salted butter, add extra salt if using unsalted butter
- 3 medium (3 medium) Zucchini, spiralized, check out how to spiralize here
- 1/2 lb (227 g) Spaghetti, any dried pasta works, such as fettuccine or linguine
- 2 teaspoon (10 g) Salt, to taste, especially if using unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) Pepper, to taste
- Gather the ingredients.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, chopped garlic, and shallots. Fry the aromatics until they are golden.
- Add the heavy whipping cream to the aromatics. Cook the cream on medium-high until small bubbles begin to form. Turn the heat down to medium. Avoid bringing the cream to a roiling boil as we don't want the cream to burn.
- Add the chopped brown oyster mushrooms to the cream. Stir the mushrooms and break apart any skin that may have formed over the cream's surface. Turn the heat down to a simmer.
- Once the mushrooms have softened, add the pats of butter.
- Allow the sauce to simmer until it is reduced to 3/4 of its original volume.
- Stir the sauce for even cooking. Poke the mushrooms to check whether they are softening. Continue simmering the sauce until it reaches 1/2 its original volume.
- While waiting for the pasta sauce to reduce, boil water to cook the pasta. Cook the pasta based on the package's instructions until the noodles are al dente. Avoid overcooking the pasta because it will cook further when it is added to the pasta sauce.Retain the pasta water when the pasta is cooked. You can remove the pasta using tongs instead of draining and pouring the water down the sink. Place the cooked pasta into a mixing bowl.
- Once you've removed the pasta, cook the zucchini noodles (if you're added the spiralized noodles) for 30-60 seconds in the hot pasta water. Move the zucchini noodles into the same mixing bowl as the pasta.Keep the pasta water.
- Set aside the pasta and "zoodles" while you finish simmering the pasta sauce. If you're worried about the noodles overcooking from residual heat and becoming mushy, rinse them under cold water to stop them from further cooking.
- Check the pasta sauce is reduced to half of its original volume. Taste a piece of mushroom. Be careful about burning your mouth as the mushroom will be hot. If the mushroom is still firm and chewy, continue cooking until the mushroom is tender. The sauce should be a creamy off-white color.If you plan to add mix-ins, now is the perfect time to add cooked chicken or steamed broccoli.
- Once the mushrooms are tender, add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Turn off the heat. Stir to mix the cheese into the sauce. The residual heat should melt the cheese. This sauce is ready to add to your noodles.
- Create your ideal ratio of pasta to zucchini noodles (I like a 1:1 ratio). Add a ladle of the creamy sauce over the top of your noodles.
- Mix to combine the noodles and the sauce. The sauce should be very thick so you can add a tablespoon of the pasta water to thin it out. Add a spoonful of the pasta water until the sauce reaches your preferred consistency. Toss everything to combine evenly.
- Your creamy pasta with mushrooms is ready to serve. Enjoy!
What to eat with this creamy sauce
Pasta ain’t the only thing you can enjoy with this creamy sauce. You can serve this sauce over steamed broccoli and cauliflower, grilled asparagus, pan-fried pressed tofu, baked potatoes, roasted winter squash, and steamed rice.
You could also use this creamy mushroom sauce as a dip for crackers and bread sticks, pizza sauce (add extra garlic for garlic pizza), or spread it over crusty bread and top with extra grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (put it under the broiler to melt the cheese).
Can you make this in advance?
Yes, you can make the creamy mushroom sauce in advance. I recommend cooking the pasta just before you’re ready to eat because pasta can get mushy when cooked in advance.
How to store and reheat leftovers
Store the creamy pasta sauce in an airtight container in the fridge. It lasted about 5-7 days in the fridge for me. The pasta sauce straight from the fridge will be hard to mix because the fat hardens when it cools in the fridge. To overcome this problem, scoop out a few spoonfuls of the sauce and add it to steaming hot pasta or vegetables. The heat and extra moisture helps spread the sauce for easy mixing.
If you’re using the sauce as a dip or spread, you may need to zap it in the microwave to warm it to room temperature.
Can you freeze it?
Yes! This creamy mushroom sauce freezes well. Store it in an airtight plastic container for freezing. Consume it within 3 months. Defrost it in the fridge over night or you can reheat the frozen sauce in a sauté pan.