With so many species of mushrooms on the market, shoppers have more options than ever when it comes to taste, texture and size. There's the chanterelle, with pronounced ridges and a subtle, earthy flavor. Or the shiitake, whose stem is tough though the cap is soft and succulent. The portobello, often as large as a hamburger, is sometimes used as a meat substitute. Whichever mushroom you choose, from white button to enoki to morel, certain cooking methods and seasonings will bring out the best of any variety.
Buying and Preparing
When purchasing mushrooms, select your own rather than buying them pre-packaged. Look for firm caps with no sunken or brown spots, and avoid any mushrooms that are shriveled or slimy. To clean, wipe each mushroom cap gently with a damp cloth or paper towel. Avoid running mushrooms under water because they absorb it like a sponge, which can result in soggy mushrooms. Pay attention to any dirt that might be trapped in grooves or crevices.
Sautéing is a quick and easy way to impart flavor, and no seasoning will do as much for a mushroom dish as a hearty dose of salt and pepper. For a simple dish, heat a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat in a skillet, then add minced garlic, whole mushrooms, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Add a bit of white wine for a crisp flavor, or season the dish with dried herbs from your spice cabinet for an earthier taste. To add a Thai spin, cook mushrooms in a bit of coconut milk with a blend of curry powder, cumin and smoked paprika. If you're craving a richer dish, pour a 3-to-1 ratio of red wine to balsamic vinegar over mushrooms and bring to a simmer. Cook until the liquid has reduced by half and the mushrooms have turned a deep red color. Serve them alone, with steak or chicken, or over toast with ricotta or goat cheese.
Roasted mushrooms are hearty and filling, with deep, rich flavor. Roast them whole with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, or pair them with additional vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, onions and broccoli. For a burst of flavor, toss mushrooms in a few teaspoons of lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce, then season with salt and pepper. Place mushrooms on a large sheet pan in a single layer and roast at 375 degrees for about a half-hour.
As a Bread or Meat Substitute
Portobello mushrooms can stand in for meat or bread products, and are hearty enough to support rich seasonings like cayenne or chipotle without being overpowered. As with any dish, though, there is no substitute for salt and pepper. Be generous with these seasonings - you may be surprised at the effect they have on a recipe. To lighten up your next burger, grill a large portobello mushroom and use it in place of a hamburger patty. For a quick pizza alternative, fill a portobello cap with mozzarella cheese and assorted vegetables, then bake until the cheese melts. In a pasta dish, mix in sliced and sautéed mushrooms to make the meal more filling without packing on the calories.
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- How to Cook Everything; Mark Bittman
Jessica Johnson is a graduate of Knox College, where she earned a Bachelor's degree in environmental studies and socio-cultural ecology. Her work has appeared in the "West Linn Tidings" community newspaper and "Fusion" theology journal. She is the blogger and recipe developer at Life As A Strawberry and the founder of The Sustainable Seafood Blog Project.