The Versatile Mushroom

September 23, 2016

I have hunted for wild mushrooms in the rolling hills of Napa, California with a mycologist (professional mushroom forager) and in my own backyard with a well-known chef. Looking for the elusive fungi is almost a meditative experience that should ALWAYS be done with experts, not amateurs. In reality, most of us “hunt” for mushrooms in our local grocery stores for commercially grown cultivated varieties and while this may not be as exciting an adventure as trapping through the woods, there is a pretty wide selection for every mushroom lover.

Some of my favorites include delicate oyster mushrooms that are grayish-white with pretty fluted caps. They are best sautéed lightly in butter and served with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Shitake mushrooms are tan to dark brown with a broad umbrella cap. They are great marinated and used in stir-fry. Enoki are tender, white mushrooms with long stems and small caps. They have a sweet, mild taste. Serve them in salads or soups or lightly stir-fried.

The royal trumpet is so called because of its light brown shaped cap and is delicious grilled or stir-fried. Cremini are the brown cousins of the common button mushroom that most of us are familiar with. Cremini are more intense in flavor and can be used in many ways from sautéing to thinly sliced and used raw in salads. The Portobello, sporting a large brown cap is also related to cremini mushrooms. Portobello are often referred to as ”poor man’s steak’” because of its meaty texture. They are fabulous on the grill.

There are hundreds of other types of cultivated fungi and the good news is that mushrooms are not only tasty and versatile, but they also provide selenium, an essential mineral beneficial for producing antioxidants. They are a great source of potassium too. And did you know that they are the only source of vitamin D in the produce aisle and one of the few non-fortified food sources? Eat n all you want since they are also low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and gluten-free.

Here are some things to remember about buying and storing mushrooms. If packaged in plastic, take the mushrooms out and place them in a paper bag. Mushrooms need to breathe and plastic turns them mushy. They will keep refrigerated for several days. Never wash mushrooms; wipe them with a damp cloth or use a mushroom brush to dust away any dirt.

The best advice I can give about cooking mushrooms is to leave them alone. Do not be in a hurry to stir them too frequently. Let them ooze out their liquid and start to brown before stirring them. Your patience will be rewarded with perfectly cooked mushrooms.

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