Mushroom 101: How to Choose, Prep and Cook Mushrooms

Mushrooms are in season right now and are such a great way to add local produce into your weekly menu.  From mild flavored white button mushrooms to portobello's earthy flavor, there is a mushroom that can be added to most any style of cooking.  The following is a rundown of how to select, prep, and cook these amazing members of the fungus family.

Common Cooking Mushrooms

Beech mushrooms are petite with either all-white or light-brown caps. They have a crunchy texture that offers a delicately mild flavor that is both sweet and deliciously nutty.
  • How To Use Them: Cook beech mushrooms whole or slice them into sauces to compliment chicken or fish dishes. They also taste great with vegetables and in stir-fry. Add to soups, stews or sauces as a last ingredient to maintain crisp texture.
Button mushrooms, or white button mushrooms, are the most popular mushroom because they are the most inexpensive and the most widely available. They have a fairly mild taste and blend well with almost anything, although they don’t offer the more intense and dramatic flavor of other varieties.
  • How To Use Them: White button mushrooms can be sautéed or cooked in any way, or enjoyed raw in salads. Try them sliced and sautéed on pizza, or in pasta, quesadillas or cheeseburgers.
Crimini mushrooms, also known as baby ‘bellas or browns, are similar in appearance to white button mushrooms, but have a light-tan to rich-brown cap and a firmer texture. Criminis have a deeper, earthier flavor than white buttons.
  • How To Use Them: Criminis They can be sautéed, broiled, microwaved or cooked in almost any way. Their hearty, full-bodied taste makes them an excellent addition to beef, wild game and vegetable dishes.
Enoki mushrooms have tiny, button-shaped caps and long, spindly stems. They are milder in taste and crunchy. Before using, trim roots at cluster base. Separate stems before serving.
  • How To Use Them: Try enokis raw in salads and sandwiches. Or use them as an ingredient in soups, such as a stock made with soy sauce and tofu.
Maitake mushrooms are also called “Hen of the Woods.” They have a distinctive aroma and a rich, woodsy taste. To prepare maitakes, sauté lightly in butter or oil.
  • How To Use Them: Maitakes add a richer taste in any recipe calling for mushrooms. They can be a main dish ingredient or used in side dishes and soups. 
Oyster mushrooms can be gray, pale yellow or even blue. They have a velvety texture and a very delicate flavor. To bring out their flavor, sauté with butter and onions.
  • How To Use Them: Try oyster mushrooms over linguine, with sliced steak and with red peppers sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese.
Portabella mushrooms have a deep, meat-like texture and flavor. Portabellas can be grilled, broiled or roasted and served as appetizers, entrées or side dishes.
  • How To Use Them: The hearty taste and texture of portabellas make them a flavorful vegetarian alternative; they can be grilled and served as “burgers” on toasted buns.
Shiitake mushrooms have a meaty texture and are rich and woodsy when cooked.
  • How To Use Them: Shiitakes add a meaty flavor and texture to stir-fry, pastas, soups, entrées and sides.

How to Choose

Choose mushrooms with a firm, unblemished skin.  Reject any that are damp, soggy or withered.  Mushrooms should have an earthy, but pleasant scent.  If you are not going to use the mushrooms immediately, buy whole instead of sliced, to lengthen their freshness in the refrigerator. Mushrooms are a food that should be bought organic, when possible, as the skin is being eaten. Modern mushroom farming often uses synthetic chemicals to increase production.

To Prep Most Mushroom Varieties

Use a damp paper towel to wipe the mushroom clean.  Trim the end of the stem off, or break it off completely.  Unused stems can be used in making homemade beef or vegetable broth, to enhance the flavor.

Cooking

There are dozens and dozens of ways to cook mushrooms (many are good for eating raw as well).  Here are simple instructions for grilling any of the larger varieties of mushrooms:  Brush cleaned mushrooms with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Place on heated grill or grill pan and cook until tender (about 12 minutes), turning often.  For portobello, grill cap down for 10-15 minutes on a hot grill or grill pan. Turn over for the last 2 minutes of cooking.

[via The Nibble]

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