Many retailers carry wild mushrooms, and when the wild varieties are not in season, cultivated specialty varieties meet market needs. Several wild mushrooms have been cultivated successfully (beech, cremini, oyster, portabella, and others) are sold year-round and are substantially less expensive, as they are grown in warehouses under controlled environment. Wild mushrooms depend on seasonal factors and the luck of foraging. If your local purveyors don’t carry much fresh stock, that needn’t impair your enjoyment. Specialty stores and online retailers carry a wide variety of fresh and dried mushrooms. Dried mushrooms can be reconstituted in water and used as you would fresh mushrooms. They’ll taste just as good—and be sure to save the liquid for soups and stocks!
What variety mushrooms should you buy? There are so many choices, you can focus on a different mushroom every month and try different recipes to see how you enjoy them best. Our Mushroom Glossary, which begins on the next page, showcases wonderful varieties of mushrooms that can easily be integrated into everyday cooking. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Certain mushrooms work better than others in certain dishes; you’ll find that many recipes specify a variety, but don’t let that stop you from experimenting!
- To prepare mushrooms, first use a sharp knife to trim any tough or woody sections off the base of the stem. Next, they must be cleaned. Wait until right before they are to be used.
- There are different schools of thought on how to clean a mushroom. The classically-trained insist on simply brushing off the dirt with a mushroom brush. The finicky claim that a more thorough cleansing via a vigorous rinse right before use is best. This is abhorred by the classicists because porous mushrooms absorb water.
- We fall in the middle, first brushing (for deep gills, try a toothbrush instead of a mushroom brush) and then removing any remaining dirt with a damp paper towel.
Store mushrooms in the refrigerator in a paper bag or wrapped in paper towels. Never store them in plastic bags: it increases the humidity which causes more rapid deterioration. Even the heartiest mushroom won’t last more than a few days, so buy only what you need fresh.
What if you have too many mushrooms? Don’t let them get soft and decay. Try one of the following:
- Dry The Mushrooms. Dried mushrooms will last for years and retain an intensified form of their flavor. Simply dehydrate the mushrooms in an oven at 140°F, or in a dehydrator if you have one. The cooking time varies with the amount of moisture the mushrooms have; watch until they are moisture-free. Dried mushrooms are excellent in soups, stews and sauces, and can be reconstituted for omelets, pasta and other recipes. Keep in an airtight container in the pantry.
- Freeze The Mushrooms. Spread the mushrooms on a cookie sheet, making sure they don’t touch. They will freeze, retaining their original shape. After they’re frozen, line them up in a container on wax paper sheets, like cookies. Never freeze a bag of fresh mushrooms; you’ll end up one large, frozen chunk.
- Sauté And Freeze. Sauté the mushrooms in butter or olive oil and then freeze them.
- Sauté And Refrigerate. Cook the mushrooms in oil and place in a mason jar; the heat should seal the jar. Use within two months.
Quickie Recipe: Mushroom Ragout
One of our favorite “luxury” dishes that never fails to impress guests is simply sautéing a mixture of wild mushrooms in garlic with butter and wine.
- It can be served as a first course by itself, topped with parmesan curls or snipped chives; as a side with any meat or poultry; or as a topping on pasta.
- This is an opportunity to show off one of your fine red wines as well: the dish is exciting and profound but not so complex as to detract from the complexities of the wine. Earthy red wines, such as Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, are the best partners.
Continue To Page 3: Mushroom Glossary A To C
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