Fabulous Fungi: Everything You Need to Know About Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Ask Chef Phyllis:

Recently on TV I heard that mushrooms are very good for you, but I don’t buy them often—mostly because I know very little about them. The supermarket had many different kinds but no information on how to use them. My experience with mushrooms is limited to sliced raw mushrooms on a spinach salad at a friend’s house and fried mushrooms on a steak in a restaurant. I liked what I ate, so I bought them, but then I forgot about those packaged white button mushrooms in the fridge. Well, you know they turned slimy and smelly and had to be trashed. Now I’m nervous about spending money on them again. Can you help?
—Barbara Jean Reynolds, Pawhuska, Oklahoma

Mushrooms of every size and shape are popping up all over (no pun intended). With simple preparation and proper storage, the distinctive taste, texture, and nutritional benefits of mushrooms really shine. There are many wonderful dishes featuring this fabulous fungi, but one of my favorites is Chicken Marsala served with oodles of fabulous wine-drenched mushrooms. Another great dish is the one I’ve included here for Sautéed Mushrooms with Balsamic Vinegar Sauce. This also happens to be an easy first recipe to master.

But before you start cooking, allow me to cover some of the basics of purchasing, storing, and cooking with mushrooms, as well as the best uses for different varieties. Follow these tips and you’ll never toss old mushrooms again.

Buying and Storing Mushrooms

  • When purchasing, look for mushrooms that appear clean and have no marks or brown blemishes on the crown. Also make sure the gills under the cap are closed.
  • Mushrooms of all varieties should be stored in the refrigerator, either in a plain brown paper bag or in a cheesecloth that’s been moistened with cool water and wrung almost dry. Either method will increase storage life from a few days to about 2 weeks.
  • Wash any mushrooms that do have soil on them under cool running water just before using—but remember to completely dry them with a paper towel first. If the mushrooms are clean, wiping away any loose debris with a dry cloth is usually sufficient.

Cooking with Mushrooms

  • If you’re cooking whole mushrooms, cut the stem off right under the cap so they lay flat in the pan.
  • For sliced mushrooms, cut them through the cap and stem for a more attractive appearance. Sauté in sizzling olive oil and butter in a large frying pan until golden brown on the first side, about 3 to 4 minutes. Flip them over and cook the other side another minute or two.
  • Mushrooms are flavor-grabbing sponges, especially when paired with wines like Marsala or vermouth. Experiment with your favorites, and remember to add the wine at the last minute. This will keep the mushrooms from becoming soggy.
  • Finally, season mushrooms with salt only after they are completely cooked. Salt releases too much liquid, which inhibits their ability to brown. No one likes soggy shrooms.

A Guide to Mushroom Varieties and How to Use Them

  • White Button Mushrooms: An earthy, tender, nutty, sweet taste when sautéed or fried. These familiar mushrooms are best on steaks or burgers, in omelets, or as a side dish. Use large button mushrooms for stuffing.
  • Brown Cremini: These have a robust flavor and a firmer texture than white button. Roast or sauté with olive oil and herbs. They also grill well and are great on steaks or burgers.
  • Portobello: A large mushroom with intense flavor, a meat-like texture, and a beefy taste. Wonderful when grilled, roasted, or fried. Use in place of meat in a vegetarian lasagna.
  • Enoki: A sweet and light grape-like flavor. Best served raw on salads or sandwiches. Also great added to soups at the last minute.
  • Shitake: Features a rich, earthy, almost smoky flavor. Good for stir fries, pasta, chicken, and pork. Be sure to cut off the dark bottom stem because it can be tough.
  • Oyster: A delicate, elusive oyster-like flavor and velvety texture. Fry as a side dish or use in soups as a garnish.
  • Maitake: A rich, woodsy taste and firm texture. Great in rice and grain side dishes and in wine sauces.

Ready to test the waters? Try the following easy and delicious side dish, best when made with button or cremini mushrooms.

Sautéed Mushrooms with Balsamic Vinegar Sauce

Ingredients

2-plus lbs. cremini or white button mushrooms, towel cleaned and sliced
2–4 tablespoons olive oil
2–4 tablespoons butter
½ to ⅔ cup balsamic vinegar, warmed
2 tablespoons raw organic honey
2 teaspoons fresh black peppercorns, coarsely cracked
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt, or to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large frying pan, heat two tablespoons each of the olive oil and butter until sizzling.
  2. Carefully place the mushrooms in a single layer in the pan. Do not overcrowd (it may be necessary to cook in two batches). Sauté until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes, without stirring. Flip carefully and cook an additional 2 minutes. If working in two batches, remove the first batch to a warm bowl, add the remaining olive oil and butter, and continue cooking the second batch. Return all the fried mushrooms to the pan.
  3. Mix the warmed balsamic vinegar with honey and peppercorns in a small bowl. Add balsamic mixture to the pan.
  4. Toss gently until all the mushrooms are coated. Sprinkle sea salt evenly over the mushrooms. Serve immediately.

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AUTHOR’S NOTE

To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:

  • chemical- and hormone-free meat
  • wild-caught fish
  • pasture-raised, organic eggs
  • whole, unrefined grains
  • virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
  • whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
  • pure, clean, spring water
  • sea salt
  • raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Phyllis Quinn

Phyllis Quinn is a chef, food writer, and founder of Udderly Cultured, a class that teaches how to make homemade fresh mozzarella, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other cultured products. Private lessons are available. For a reservation, call Phyllis at 970-221-5556 or email her at [email protected] Rediscover nearly lost cooking methods and get one-of-a-kind recipes in her books The Slow Cook Gourmet and Udderly Cultured: The Art of Milk Fermentation.

Products by Phyllis Quinn

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