While they’re often grouped with vegetables, mushrooms are technically a classification of their own - fungus. They don't have seeds, don't require light to grow, nor do they have roots and other distinctions required to classify them officially as a vegetable. The Chef & The Dish Mushroom 101 Guide will help you understand how to select, store, clean and cook the most popular varieties of edible mushrooms around the world.
HOW TO SELECT MUSHROOMS
Mushrooms should feel firm and be consistent in colour. Inconsistent colouring and damp looking dark spots could mean your mushroom has been sitting around a bit too long.
Mushrooms should be purchased a few days maximum before using them in your dish (unless of course they’re dried). They are delicate little spores and should be kept in cool temperatures, which means the refrigerator, in a brown paper bag.
TO CLEAN OR NOT TO CLEAN
There are two schools of thought on how to clean mushrooms. First, trim the woody part of the stem. But after, should you wash or not wash? Cooked mushrooms reduce to a fraction of their size due to high water content. Because of that, some theories suggest washing mushrooms adds additional water content, but this has mostly been debunked. If you choose to rinse your mushrooms, quickly rinse with cold water and use a salad spinner or cloth to make them dry quickly. The other school thought, and our preferred method, is to brush mushrooms with a dry brush or slightly damp cloth.
If you’re eating fresh mushrooms as part of a crudité plate, always use a brush. Cleaning mushrooms in water can discolour them. It’s superficial, but they look better. If your mushrooms are extra dirty, it might be better to wash. Use your judgment.
Mushrooms are low in calories. Due to their hearty and meaty texture, eating mushrooms could result in fewer calories consumed throughout the day. They’re a great choice for anyone looking for healthy weight management options. Mushrooms have a good source of Vitamin D, a vitamin loosely linked to reduced cancer prevention. It’s the only option in the produce section that contains Vitamin D at all. They’re rich in antioxidants, and contain high levels of B Complex vitamins (niacin, riboflavin and others) which are important to your nervous system.
CULTIVATED MUSHROOM VARIETIES
Cultivated mushrooms can be mass produced given the right circumstances. They generally grow off dead and rotting material (trees or logs) and therefore the environment can be reproduced for year-round growing.
The common Button Mushroom, also called White Mushroom, is the most eaten mushroom in the world, and with good reason. They're easy to cultivate making them affordable and widely available everywhere. The white Button Mushroom is the same general mushroom as a Crimini and Portabello. The Crimini or 'brown mushroom' is simply a different strand of colour, and the Portabello is just a mature version of it. So the three mushrooms have similar dense and meaty properties.
Best Uses: In general, the button mushroom is best whole. Keeping it whole keeps dignity to the texture and flavour. Excellent to stuff and bake, or just eat raw as part of a crudité plate
Crimini Mushrooms, also known as brown mushrooms, are the same strand as the white version found in the store. They have similar flavour and culinary uses, but we find they look nicer in soups and other cooked dishes over their paler counterpart.
Best Uses: Pan fried in butter with a bit of thyme and a little squeeze of lemon brings out the amazing woodsy qualities and is fantastic over any steak or roast.
Portabello mushrooms are simply Brown (Crimini) Mushrooms that have grown to full size. Similar to Criminis, they have a meaty and firm texture, and are a great option to replace part or all of meat in a dish with fewer bad fats. But it doesn't stop there, next time you're making beef tacos, consider reducing the amount of meat and replacing with a finely chopped brown mushroom to increase your nutrients and add quantity with a budget friendly option.
Best Uses: Sliced or served whole and cooked. They're excellent grilled. A Portabello burger can be just as satisfying as a beef burger.
The Oyster Mushroom is versatile and can grow in many places (including in small batches using a mushroom kit in your own home!). Often used in Japanese, Chinese and Korean cooking, the Oyster Mushroom is delicate, mild with a slight sweetness and easy to prepare.
Best Uses: Simply tear them apart and add them to soups or stir-fries. We also love to bake them. Just top them with a sprinkle of bread crumbs, garlic and Parmigiano cheese and then serve over peppery arugula.
King Oyster Mushrooms
This giant mushroom is now popping up at grocery stores across North America, but we find the average home cook doesn’t incorporate this thick mushroom into their regular cooking. Originally native to the Mediterranean, Asia and parts of North Africa, the King Oyster Mushroom is extra meaty, with an earthy but still mild flavour.
Best Uses: Due to the meatiness and size of the King Oyster Mushrooms, they're especially fantastic when battered and fried (such as tempura) or sautéed. When they're met with liquid, they can take on a slimy texture, so avoid them in soups.
The shiitake mushroom is collectively one of The Chef & The Dish favourites. A Japanese doctor by the name of Kisaku Mori studied the mushroom intensely from starting the Institute of Mushroom Research in Tokyo in 1936 through this death in 1977. It was his research that helped declare the Shiitake mushroom a medicinal mushroom, and is still considered to be so in many cultures. Shiitakes are native to East Asia, and are found equally fresh and dried. The dried variety is a staple in our cupboards. It's less expensive than Porcini Mushrooms and when dried, they have a similar pungent flavour making them fantastic to whip up a quick risotto. When cooked, they are soft and have a woodsy flavour.
Best uses: The Shiitake mushroom is incredibly versatile and can be used in nearly every method of cooking. Whether purchased fresh or dried, they're great in any soup (in particular Japanese flavoured soups) pan-fried, or cooked into rice dishes and noodle dishes. Avoid eating them raw.
These Japanese mushrooms are popular in Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese cooking. Before using, trim a bit of the bunch off the bottom, and then tear apart loosely. These curious species are mild flavour making them versatile in a variety of cuisines, although Japanese dishes are always where they feel most at home.
Best Uses: Enoki Mushrooms can be eaten raw or cooked and add a nice crunch to soups and stir-fries. Just as caution, don’t cook for too long, otherwise they can get tough.
WILD MUSHROOM VARIETIES
Wild mushrooms are exactly that - they're found most often in the wild and are hard to cultivate due to their important relationship with the soil. This makes these mushrooms more expensive as more resources are required to find them in nature. If you've never gone mushroom hunting, we can't recommend it more! These are the mushrooms you may stumble upon, so learn up and maybe you can find an incredible meal for yourself in a nearby forest.
This rich, earthy and woodsy mushroom is another favourite of The Chef & The Dish team. The Porcini Mushroom is famously found across Italy, but also found in other European countries, North America and New Zealand. The soil is very important to growing quality porcini mushrooms, leading to a higher price tag. They're most commonly found dried in North America, but it's not unusual to find them fresh and preserved in jars across Italy. Nutty and dense, fresh Porcinis are something every gourmet or mushroom lover should try.
Best Uses: Porcini Mushrooms are pungent and can overwhelm a dish, there's no need to use a ton. Because of their deep flavour, they are a fantastic addition to gravy, stocks and stews, including of course, risotto.
This beautiful mushroom is found around the world, most notably in Europe, North America, Central America, and Asia. The golden hued, trumpet shaped Chanterelle has been noted as one of the most important of all edible mushrooms, and was once closely aligned with the cuisine of royalty. They are fantastic both dried and fresh but rarely eaten raw since the cooking process brings out their complex flavour.
Best Uses: This nutty mushroom should be cooked and is best when it's the star of a dish. Think mushroom soup or in a mushroom pasta dish.
These unique looking mushrooms are notoriously difficult to harvest making wild morel mushroom finding a massive business. They're found in temperate climates across North America from late March through May. They're also found across China, Turkey, India and Pakistan. This quick to appear fungus grows near the outer edge of forests at the bottom of specific trees, namely Ash, Oak, Aspen and Elms. In order to be sure you're in the heart of Morel Hunting season, keep mind of the daily temperatures. The soil needs to reach roughly 60°F with the night producing temperatures no colder than 40°F (between 15°C and 4°C). They can pop up one day and gone the next, so time your hunting trip right, and you'll be seriously rewarded.
Best Uses: The nutty and meaty flavour of Morels is a wonderful early spring or autumn treat. Recipes that include frying in butter brings out the fantastic Morel flavour. Similar to Chanterelles, they should be the star of a dish to enjoy their complex flavour.
Maitake (Hen of the Woods) Mushrooms
This popular mushroom in Japan has just started to gain traction in North America. Maitake, which translates to 'Dancing Mushroom' in Japanese is mostly found at the base of Oak trees in North America, Japan, China and xx. It's a promising medicinal mushroom with evidence to support continued research in the Maitake's ability to stimulate the immune system, reduce the growth of cancer, and help aid with diabetic symptoms. But don't just seek them out for that, they're also delicious! These often large and feathery mushrooms can just be torn apart and added to your dish.
Best Uses: A simple sauté in butter makes for a fantastic accompaniment to a roast chicken. Don't hesitate to add them Maitake mushrooms to broths for a rich flavour, or Japanese noodle dishes.
The diamond of the kitchen. Truffles are one of the most expensive foods in the world. This gourmet food is sniffed out by dogs and pigs who have been trained to sense their smell. Black Truffles are most commonly found in France, Italy, Spain, Croatia and Slovenia. Whereas White Truffles are more rare (and therefore more expensive) and most commonly found in Italy. Truffle oil is a poor comparison to an actual shaved truffle often found in Italian and French cuisine. Truffles are near impossible to culivate thus require diligence and work and again, result in a hefty price tag. It’s not unusual to see White Truffles selling for $2,000 a pound.
Best Uses: We have all seen truffle oil gracing french fries and pastas, but this is a pale comparison to an actual truffle. Once you taste both grated truffle and truffle oil, you'll notice the oil actually has a manufactured flavour. It adds a nice richness, but it's just not the same at all. Due to the incredibly expensive truffle, this is a true delicacy. Buying a whole truffle will set back your wallet, so using it properly is key. It's best grated over a simple pasta or risotto and should always be added at the end of cooking, again, eaten freshly grated. The truffle is your hero.
Gotcha. Lobster Mushrooms are actually not mushrooms at all. This parasite fungus is a different classification all together. This parasite eats away at other specific mushrooms turing a bright colour, just like a lobster. Aligned with their name, the flavour has a more seafood type taste and denser texture.
Lobster Mushrooms are great pan-fried and are fantastic additions to seafood dishes.
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