I love mushrooms; I mean I LOVE them. Did you know that there are over 38,000 varieties of mushrooms available, over 3,000 in North America alone, with varying colors, textures and flavors? Some are so rare that they only grow for one week during the year.
They grow wild in many areas, but most mushrooms on the market are commercially-grown on farms. Mushrooms do not depend upon photosynthesis to grow. They need only rain and moderate temperatures to proliferate. The best mushroom harvesting is done while it is raining.
Mushrooms are extremely porous and soak up water like a sponge. Because they are mostly water, never soak fresh mushrooms.
Since commercially-available mushrooms are grown in a sterile medium, invest in a soft mushroom brush and simply brush away any clinging growing medium rather than washing with water. If you must, wipe them with a damp paper towel.
Be aware that salt releases the water in mushrooms, so judge the salt usage accordingly for your particular recipe.
There is no need to peel mushrooms. In fact, peeling mushrooms nullifies most of their flavor. Simply trim off any damaged spots and tough or dirty stems.
Some of my favorite mushrooms:
Porcini – resembles the traditional fairytale toadstool; weighing from a couple of ounces to a pound each with caps from one to ten inches in diameter; smooth, meaty texture; pungent in flavor; pale brown color; very expensive; many general cooking uses.
Portabello/Portabella – the largest of the commercially available mushrooms with a tan/brown cap, it’s the mature version of the crimini. Its popularity derives from a brilliant marketing campaign in the 1980’s to sell these perceived “over-mature” common mushrooms. Its long growing cycle gives a deep, meat-like flavor, and substantial texture. They are good whole, sliced, grilled, baked, stir-fried and deep-fried. Be sure to trim off the dry, fibrous portion of the stem.
Oyster – the fluted cap resembles a fan; ranging in color from soft beige brown to gray; can be eaten raw in salads but more often this mushroom is cooked to bring out its delicate flavor and velvety texture. Some say this mushroom has a faint oyster-like or seafood flavor, to match its likeness in shape to oysters.
Shiitake (oak mushroom; Chinese black mushroom; forest mushroom; golden oak) – ranging in color from tan to dark brown; characterized by broad, umbrella shaped caps up to ten inches in diameter, wide open veils and tan gills; rich, full-bodied flavor, almost steak-like, with a meaty texture when cooked. These are best when cooked in almost any method, particularly sautéing, broiling and baking. Remove stems before cooking but reserve them for soup stocks.
Crimini (Italian brown) – a naturally dark cap that ranges in color from light tan to rich brown; rich, earthy flavor is more intense than that of the Agaricus. Substitute for button mushrooms to add a more full-bodied flavor.
Agaricus (white mushroom, button mushroom) – this is widely available; varies in color from white to light brown and in size from small to jumbo stuffer; plump and dome-shaped; pleasing flavor intensifies when cooked. Mature Agaricus with open veils have an intensely rich taste. Agaricus is quite versatile, being excellent for use both raw and cooked. Also available canned and dried.
Chanterelle (girolle) – vase-shaped; ranging in color from bright yellow to orange; nutty and delicate flavor and texture; expensive when fresh; also available dried and canned. Add late in the cooking process to avoid toughening. Use in salads, sauces and risottos.
The below recipe works well with your favorite mushroom. This is a hit every time I serve it.
Chocolate Mushroom Pâté
3 Tblsp unsalted butter
1/2 C chopped red onion
2 tsp minced garlic
24 oz mushrooms, stems trimmed, wiped clean and coarsely chopped
3/4 C dry white wine
1 Tblsp cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 oz softened cream cheese
4 oz softened goat cheese
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft and fragrant (2 to 3 minutes). Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until wilted and starting to brown and giving up their juice. Add the wine, salt, pepper, and cook, stirring, occasionally until the wine is nearly all evaporated.
Transfer from skillet to a food processor. Process with the cheeses and pulse until well combined. Adjust seasoning, to taste. Transfer to a decorative ramekin or bowl, cover and refrigerate until set, 3 to 4 hours.
Serve chilled with your favorite vegetable slices, i.e., cucumber; zucchini; carrot; egg plant, etc., and / or crostini; artisan bread; or crackers.
Enjoy the chocolate journey!