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What Are Mushrooms?
Mushrooms belong to the fungi kingdom that is separate from plants and animals. They regenerate on their own through the germination of their spores, which is very similar to how plants seed. Unlike plants and animals though, they don't consume food or light to grow; instead they digest the very nutrients they secrete. There's so many thousands of mushrooms species, and each are quite different, with the most pertinent distinction between them being whether they're edible or poisonous.
Mushrooms are used for cooking, especially in Asian and European cuisines. Mushrooms are known as the “meat” of the vegetable world, make a great substitution for meat in dishes. Most of the mushrooms we buy from supermarkets are cultivated on mushroom farms and safe to ingest because it is grown in a sterilized environment. Gather a kilo of your favorite mushrooms and make Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe for creamy polenta with mushroom conserva here.
How to Tell if a Mushroom Is Edible
If you have spent time hiking in the woods, you’ve probably seen mushrooms growing on the trunks of trees. You may enjoy foraging for your food and want to know how to tell if a mushroom is edible. If you aren’t absolutely sure that a mushroom you see is safe to eat, then do not eat it. Some mushrooms are toxic and can sicken or kill you if eaten. There are some varieties that are distinctive such as chanterelles or boletes, but it is best to find an expert that is familiar with the species of wild mushrooms in your area and can confirm what they look like. Most wild mushrooms are difficult to digest when eaten raw, so once you have identified you have edible mushrooms, make sure to cook them well before ingesting.
Some good rules for avoiding poisonous mushrooms:
- Avoid amanita mushrooms with red on the cap or stem.
- Avoid mushrooms with white gills (death cap), a skirt or ring on the stem, and bulbous base (destroying angel).
How to Clean Mushrooms
It is best not to soak fresh mushrooms in water, but instead to give them a quick rinse in cold, running water to release the dirt. Place the rinsed mushrooms on a kitchen towel and gently pat dry using paper towels. For spongy mushrooms with large pores like morels, you can clean them with a brush or lightly damp paper towel.
14 Different Types of Mushrooms and How to Cook With Each
- Button or White Mushroom: This entry level mushroom is the most common and mildest-tasting mushroom you’ll find in most grocery stores. Less intensely flavored than wild mushrooms, they can be sliced up and used as toppings on pizza, eaten raw or cooked, and tossed in salads.
- Shiitake Mushroom: Lentinula edodes, or shiitake mushrooms, are commonly used in Asian cuisine and are thought to have medicinal benefits. They're best identified by their umbrella-shaped brown caps and have a light woodsy flavor and aroma. Shiitake mushrooms have a meaty texture and release an earthy, umami flavor when cooked. They can be sautéed, fried, stir-fried, roasted, used as toppings on pizza, and added to soups.
- Portobello Mushroom: Commonly used in Italian cooking, hearty, rich portobellos give depth to creamy sauces and pastas. The meaty texture of this large brown mushroom makes it a great meat substitute. Try swapping out your meat patties and use portabellos instead to make delicious vegetarian burgers. They are great for grilling and stuffing.
- Cremini (Baby Bella Mushroom): A crimino is a young portobello mushroom that is light brown and more flavorful than button mushrooms. They can be substituted for any recipes using buttons mushrooms.
- Oyster Mushroom: Pleurotus ostreatus, or oyster mushroom, is a common edible mushroom. These can be found in the wild growing on trees, although the ones you'll find in the store are usually farm cultivated. They're white to light brown in color and fan-shaped with a mild and sweet flavor. Oyster mushrooms are often used in Chinese cuisine for stir-fries and soups.
- Enoki Mushroom: Enoki mushrooms are commonly used in Asian cooking. They come in small clusters with small, shiny white caps attached to thin stems. They're good raw with a slight crunch, or can be used in soups and sautéed.
- Morel Mushroom: Morchella esculenta, or morel mushrooms, are some of the most desired wild mushrooms. They have a distinctive spongy and conical shaped cap. They have a nutty, earthy flavor and are delicious sautéed simply in butter. Try Wolfgang Puck’s recipe for springtime risotto with morels here.
- Maitake (Hen Of The Woods Mushroom): Grifola frondosa or maitake are cultivated as well as found wild. These mushrooms are sold in clusters with soft overlapping caps. This mushroom has an earthy aroma and is native to both the northwestern US and Japan. They make for a stunning presentation when seared in a large cluster, or deep fried.
- Porcini Mushroom: Porcini are one of the most prized wild mushrooms and commonly used in Italian cooking. They have caps that are reddish-brown in color with creamy, nutty flavors. Porcini mushrooms are often sold dried, and can be soaked in hot water before using. They can be added to braised meat dishes, ground and sprinkled onto steaks as a dry rub, or cooked in risotto.
- King Oyster (King Trumpet Mushroom): King oysters have a thick, white stem that can be eaten. They can be sliced into medallions and sautéed, or sliced vertically and grilled or roasted.
- Black Trumpet (Black Chanterelle): These wavy-capped fungi are a late-summer find in the Midwest and Eastern US and grows all winter long on the West Coast. Black trumpets have a rich, smoky flavor and notes of a black truffle mushroom when dried.
- Chanterelle Mushroom: Trumpet shaped with a vivid golden flesh, they are one of the most popular wild mushrooms. They're common in many European cuisines and are also native to the northwestern US. Chanterelles have a woodsy, mushroom flavor and velvety texture that make them great for sautéing simply in butter.
- Black Truffle (French Black Truffle): One of the most expensive, seasonal, and perishable mushrooms. They have a distinct flavor unlike anything else with a pungent, earthy scent. Because of their high value, they are used sparingly shaved over scrambled eggs, pastas, and soups.
- Beech (Shimeji Mushrooms): These small brown-capped clusters can be found in most Asian grocery stores. They work great in stir-fries, noodle soups, and seafood dishes.
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