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Mushrooms: A Culinary Treasure

As temperatures drop, pumpkins, butternut squash and cranberries take center stage on menus. However there's another bumper crop that deserves applause — mushrooms. Most mushrooms are available year-round, however many are at their peak in fall and winter. So now's the time to learn the difference between portobello and porcini or maitake and morel and how to spotlight them at your table.

Selecting

For cooking whole, choose smaller mushrooms. For slicing or chopping, medium-sized varieties work best. For stuffing, choose those with large caps. Though some mushrooms may be used together or interchangeably in some recipes, each type imparts slightly different flavors and has its ideal uses:

White Button

Mild flavor and versatile these are great for sautéing, pastas and pizza.

 

Cremini

Also known as Baby Bella their mildly earthy flavor stands up to almost any cooking method and enhances meat and veggie dishes.

 

Chanterelle

Their flavor ranges from apricot-like to fruity earthiness and they’re wonderful simply sautéed with olive oil.

 

Enoki

Delicate with a mild, sweet taste, their slightly crunchy texture make them best for using raw in salads, floating on soups or tossing into a stir-fry just before serving.

 

Maitake

A meaty texture with a bold flavor, it holds up well in stir-fries and soups.

 

Morel

Spongy caps hide a hollow interior that must be rinsed thoroughly. The Intense, earthy flavor complements meats well; however, fresh morels sautéed in butter are worth a try on their own.

 

Oyster

Their flavor is delicate, so cook only briefly. The normal color ranges from white to grey-brown. Some exotic varieties can be pink to yellow. These are complemented by butter, onion, seafood and gentle herbs.

 

Porcini

Smooth, moist and firm, their robust, meaty flavor and sturdy texture stand up to long cooking times. Remove the veil (stringy material under the cap) prior to cooking. (Save the liquid from soaking dried porcinis for soup and sauce making!)

 

Portobello

A deep, meaty texture and complex flavor. The large size is great for grilling, stuffing, sandwiches and appetizers.

 

Shiitake

A strong flavor makes it a good all-purpose mushroom, and its firm texture stands up to long cooking times. Always remove the stems!

 

Truffle

Stemless, difficult-to-find foraged fungi that add distinct flavor to mild foods, especially rice, pasta and egg dishes. A small truffle shaving imparts big flavor.

 

Wood Ear

Mild flavor, unique curly shape and firm, chewy texture. It’s best to add these during final minutes of cooking. They’re great in stir-fries.

 

Storing

Refrigerate unwashed fresh mushrooms in a paper bag or their original container, and place them on a regular shelf (rather than in a high-humidity produce drawer) in your fridge. They remain freshest when neither too dry, nor too damp, so avoid storing them in airtight plastics. Use soon after purchase so they remain firm and blemish free and so they don't absorb odors or flavors from other foods in the fridge.

Using

To clean, brush off the dirt with a soft brush or damp paper towel. Mushrooms absorb water easily, so ideally they shouldn't be rinsed or soaked. You can use the stems of most mushrooms though cut off and discard any portion of the stem holding a lot of soil. (If a recipe calls for only the caps, don't forget to save the stems for making stock!) Try some of these classic as well as unique ways to cook with mushrooms:

Do you have a favorite cold weather mushroom recipe? What is it?