Mushroom Mania: What You Need to Know to Choose, Store, & Cook Them
When it comes to mushrooms, you might find yourself getting dizzy from all the options. We've broken down for you the most popular types, plus some tips about storing them for max freshness.
Springing up like magic, mushrooms come in so many varieties and can be prepared in countless ways. Let's explore some of the most popular mushrooms.
This trumpet-shaped wild mushroom has a delicate flavor and ranges in color from yellow to orange. Treat gently, though; the chanterelle's meaty texture toughens up when overcooked. Peak season is summer and winter.
Accounting for 90 percent of mushrooms sales in the U.S., buttons are by far our favorite mushroom. They were originally cultivated near Paris in the 1700s, and are also called champignons de Paris. They're mild, can be enjoyed raw or cooked, and some are large enough to be stuffed.
Crimini (also Cremini or Baby Bella):
These mushrooms are the same species as buttons, but they're darker and have a slightly denser texture and meatier flavor. Like buttons, crimini gain flavor as they age: They begin with tightly closed pink gills that progress to slightly open light brown gills and then fully open dark brown gills. Use them as you would button mushrooms, particularly when you want a more pronounced mushroom flavor.
Mushrooms are essential ingredients in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cuisine, and shiitake mushrooms are the most popular (while the caps are delicious, the stems are too fibrous to eat). Shiitakes also boast higher amounts of copper, B5, and B6 than any other commonly available mushroom, and only cremini offer more selenium. Their woodsy flavor intensifies when dried. When dried, shiitakes contain exceptionally high amounts of umami -- a sprinkling of shiitake powder adds an intense savoriness to any dish. Available fresh in spring and autumn.
This cousin to the truffle sports honeycombed caps and has a rich, smoky flavor. Morels are can be found fresh in specialty markets from mid to late spring, but are more readily available dried.
Wild mushrooms are typically sold dried rather than fresh. The king of them all, porcini (also called cepe or king bolete), is highly prized for its rich flavor and texture. When dried, porcini deepen in flavor, imparting their creamy meatiness to dishes. Their soaking water can be added to soups and sauces, too, for extra oomph. Or if you'd rather not soak dried porcini, you can grind them in a small food processor to make a super-savory seasoning for marinades, sauces, or even popcorn.
Portobello (or Portabella):
These huge, flat, deeply flavored mushrooms are a natural substitute for steaks and burgers on the grill. They're actually grown-up cremini -- three to seven days older than their smaller relatives. Being more mature means that portobellos have fully open caps, almost black gills, and lots of flavor. Strange but true: if portabellos have been exposed to UV light on the farm, their vitamin D content goes from 2 to 94 percent of your daily value! Even once they're in your kitchen, you can increase their vitamin D content by leaving your portabellos lying in a patch of bright sunlight for at least an hour before using them. Widely available throughout the year.
Thin, brittle, and sweet, these are the delicate ballerinas of the mushroom world. Use raw in salads or briefly cooked in Asian dishes.
Fan-shaped clusters of wild oyster mushrooms can be found on rotting tree trunks. Young oysters are preferred; their peppery flavor mellows when cooked. Look for them fresh or canned in Asian and specialty markets.
Tiny in stature with musty overtones. Available fresh in specialty and Asian markets, but most commonly found canned.
Check out our complete collection of Mushroom Recipes.
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Choosing & Using Fresh Mushrooms
When choosing fresh mushrooms, look for caps that aren't shriveled around the edges. Although there is such a thing as slime cap mushrooms, store-bought mushrooms should never be slimy or have noticeable soft spots. The darker the gills, the more mature and flavorful the mushroom, so choose button and cremini mushrooms accordingly. (Pink/light-brown gills mean very mild mushrooms; dark brown gills mean loads of flavor.) No matter what kind you choose, bagging your own loose mushrooms often costs up to 50 percent less than buying them prepackaged.
The Dirt on Mushrooms
- Mushrooms are a high-fiber, low-fat source of protein and B vitamins.
- There are thousands of mushroom varieties, but relatively few come to market.
- Choose mushrooms that are dry and firm, and have closed caps.
- Refrigerate fresh mushrooms in a paper bag with a paper towel for up to three days.
- Why paper? Plastic bags tend to cause mushrooms to sweat and rot more quickly.
- Clean fresh mushrooms just before cooking by wiping or brushing them. Never drench them. The exception is freshly picked morels, which should be thoroughly dunked to encourage their insect residents to vacate their homes.
- Remove tough stems and save for making stock.
- Fresh mushrooms soak up and then release lots of moisture during cooking.
- The high water content of raw mushrooms means they won't freeze well. Instead, sauté the mushrooms in butter with chopped onion and garlic and then freeze them in small portions -- an instant flavor base for soups and sauces.
- Rehydrate dried mushrooms by soaking them in warm water for 30 minutes. Lift out with a slotted spoon. The remaining liquid can be strained and used to flavor soups and sauces.
- Cook fresh mushrooms with a small amount of rehydrated wild mushrooms to amplify flavors.
Mushroom Myth & Magic
There's a great deal of myth and magic with regards to mushrooms. Early Romans so revered them that a dinner guest knew where he stood from the quantity and variety of mushrooms on his plate. These days, markets are offering much more than the common white button mushroom.
Portions of this article were provided by Allrecipes magazine -- pick up a copy today or subscribe here.