List of Gourmet Mushrooms
Home cooks generally know the humble button mushroom, but more exotic varieties like chanterelle, morel and other gourmet options are less familiar. Compared with the smooth-capped, mildly earthy button, the bold smoky and nutty flavors of the honeycombed morel or the fruity taste of the trumpet-shaped chanterelle may initially seem intimidating, but gourmet mushrooms are an easy, low-fat way to add flavor to your favorite dishes.
Shiitake mushrooms are prized for their smoky, steak-like flavor and meaty, dark-brown caps. Their distinct, pleasing flavor makes shiitakes an excellent side dish on their own – simply oven-roasted, then sprinkled with salt – or starring in dishes with bold flavors like stir-fries. Shiitakes may be purchased fresh or dried, but the stems are too tough for consumption; save them for flavoring soups or making stock.
The rippled, fan shape of this wild mushroom is said to resemble that of the body of a hen, earning the maitake the moniker “hen of the woods.” The woodsy flavor of the maitake makes it ideal for punching up the richness of any dish that calls for mushrooms, such as soups and stir-fries, though its flavor is best enjoyed as a stand-alone side dish. Sauté maitakes in butter or oil and serve. They can be substituted with oyster mushrooms, which usually cost less.
The delicate, fruity and delightfully crisp enoki possesses spaghetti-thin stems topped with petite, snowy-white caps that are best enjoyed raw; try them on garden salads or tossed with lemon and sea salt. Enokis also make great garnishes atop hot dishes such as soups, but if you plan on incorporating them into a cooked dish add them toward the end of cooking as heat makes them tough.
With a flavor reminiscent of shellfish, raw oyster mushrooms are fairly robust and peppery. Oyster mushrooms benefit from cooking, which makes their flavors milder. Their sturdy texture stands up to longer cooking times, making oyster mushrooms a great addition to stews. When purchasing, look for oyster mushrooms with caps that are no larger than 1 1/2 inches in diameter as the smaller specimens are considered the best tasting.
The trumpet-shaped chanterelle possesses a delicate fruity, nutty flavor that instantly elevates any dish. Try pairing roasted or sautéed chanterelles with sweet meats such as pork or ham. When incorporating chanterelles into dishes such as stuffing, make sure to add them at the end of cooking to prevent them from becoming too tough. Fresh chanterelles can be difficult to locate if they aren’t in season, but they are also available dried or canned.
Honeycomb-capped morels have a smoky, earthy, nutty flavor – reminiscent of the ground they came out of – that everyone from chefs to home cooks go crazy for. Morels are best enjoyed sautéed in butter, though they also make a great addition to sauces, as their intricate caps are the perfect vessels for trapping flavor. Morels can also be found canned or dried, with dried morels possessing an even more intense flavor than fresh ones.
The meaty texture and rich, woodsy flavor make porcini a desirable addition to most any dish. Their large caps can be roasted or grilled whole; or diced and added to soups, stuffings and stews. Porcini can also be enjoyed raw and make a great addition to salads. If you’re lucky enough to find them fresh, select porcini with large, firm caps. Porcini are more readily available dried, and must be softened in hot water for 20 minutes before use. They’re also known as cépes, boletes or steinpiltz, and they can show up on gourmet shopping sites under any of those names.
Blewits or Bluettes
Similar in appearance to that of button mushrooms, blewits possess caps with distinct bluish lavender hues that turn tan with age. Blewit mushrooms have a mild but pleasant flavor that pairs well with pork, fish and poultry, but is overpowered in boldly seasoned dishes. They are also excellent stewing mushrooms, but avoid eating blewits raw as they have been known to cause indigestion.
A brief pan-cook in a little butter or olive oil is all that is required to create a simple, yet flavorful side dish of sautéed mushrooms and onions. The simple side is also a welcome addition to pasta sauces and stir-fries and is right at home nestled on top of steaks and casseroles. The addition of fresh herbs and seasonings, a few splashes of a flavorful cooking liquid or ingredients such as green bell pepper allow the cook to create flavors that will complement any accompanying dishes.
Cleaning and Prepping Mushrooms
Clean mushrooms before cooking, using a damp paper towel or a soft-bristled brush to remove any dirt or grit. Because mushrooms readily absorb moisture, cleaning with water should be avoided. However, really dirty mushrooms or those with hard-to-clean areas can be briefly rinsed with cool, running water, then patted dry to remove excess moisture. Trim the ends of stems or remove them entirely from varieties like shiitakes that have tough stems. To ensure even cooking, slice, quarter or dice mushrooms into similar-size pieces.
Remove the root and stem ends from an onion, as well as the tough, papery exterior layer. Cut into slices or dice into smaller pieces, making them similar in size to the accompanying mushrooms so that they cook evenly. If using additional ingredients such as green bell pepper, slice or dice them to match the mushroom preparation.
Sautéing Mushrooms and Onions
Add a teaspoon or two of oil or butter to a pan and bring to medium to medium-high heat; avoid adding too much oil as the mushrooms will absorb it. When the oil shimmers with heat or the butter has begun to bubble, add the onions to the pan and cook, uncovered, until translucent, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Then add the mushrooms, stirring to coat with oil or butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired. Cook, stirring frequently, for approximately 10 minutes. If adding peppers, introduce them to the pan near the end of the cooking time, depending on the level of crispness desired. Both the mushrooms and onions should be golden brown and caramelized in appearance, and the mushrooms should be tender, but not rubbery.
Finishing the Sauté
Add any desired seasonings at the end of cooking, including fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme or chives; seasonings such as garlic salt or cayenne pepper; or a few splashes of white wine, balsamic vinegar or soy sauce. Stir to incorporate.
Once finished cooking, add mushrooms and onions to pasta sauces, layer on hot sandwiches such as Philly cheesesteaks, incorporate into stir-fries or use as a garnish for steaks. Try serving alongside baked green beans and grilled sausages or on top of warm, wilted spinach salads.
Coral mushrooms, also known as crown-tipped coral, are one of the most visually exotic wild mushrooms around. They’re in season from June to September and are only available as a foraged fungi. You can sometimes buy them in specialty grocery stores, but they are more commonly found at farmer’s markets. Coral mushrooms can be sauteed, pickled or used in soups. While coral mushrooms are safe to eat cooked or raw, too many can cause an upset stomach, so eat them in small quantities.
Appearance and Harvest
Coral mushrooms are have long, thin, upward reaching stalks that are topped with a small crown shape. These tubular fungi are yellow-tan in color, but as they age, the yellow becomes more pronounced, and they may develop a slight pink tinge. Only white, beige or yellow coral mushrooms are edible. If you forage your own coral mushrooms, avoid any brightly colored mushrooms, and look for corals growing on dead wood. However, it’s best to buy coral mushrooms from a reputable seller, as it’s easy to mistake deadly mushrooms for safe ones.
Freshness and Cleaning
Like with other mushrooms, avoid coral mushrooms that have started to brown, darken and discolor. They turn mushy as they rot, developing a slimy texture. As coral mushrooms age after harvest, they develop a funky smell, a bit like dirty socks, and while they’re still safe to eat, they’re best discarded.
Clean coral mushrooms by breaking them into smaller clusters, and swirling them around, submerged, in cold water to remove all the dirt. The crown of the mushrooms make them difficult to clean well. Thoroughly dry the mushrooms on a towel — at room temperature or in the fridge — before cooking.
Coral Mushroom Taste and Uses
Coral mushrooms have a peppery taste that only becomes apparent after a few seconds after eating. As they are very delicate, the mushrooms cook very quickly, and they soften and wilt soon after being heated. This makes coral mushrooms well suited for sauces and soups, or, because of their distinctive appearance, to be used as garnish. Coral mushrooms can also be pickled.
Cooking Coral Mushrooms
To make a coral mushroom salad, separate the mushrooms into small clusters, mixing them with other pieces of similarly sized vegetables, such as baby lettuce and halved cherry tomatoes. Dress the salad lightly with a vinaigrette, tossing gently with both hands. Do this just before serving, as dressing too early can cause the mushrooms and lettuce to wilt.
To use coral mushrooms in soups drop small clusters of the mushrooms directly into piping hot bowls of soup. Like with the salad, do this just before serving so they retain their shape. Coral mushrooms, because of their delicate texture, work best with broth-based soups, such as miso soup. Bring dashi stock to a rolling boil, add in the other miso soup ingredients — miso paste, tofu, soy sauce and mirin — and portion into serving bowls. Add the coral mushroom clusters just before sprinkling shredding green onion onto the bowls.
To make pickles, bring the pickling liquid to a rolling boil. Use either leftover pickle brine or your own blend, such as a mix of vinegar, salt, garlic, pepper and water. Once boiling, turn off the heat and pour the pickling liquid into sterilized jars. Fully submerge the mushrooms in the liquid. Their delicate nature means they don’t need to be cooked prior to being jarred. Store pickled coral mushrooms in the refrigerator for upwards of six weeks.
Storage for Mushrooms
Coral mushrooms are best eaten fresh, as they don’t take well to dehydration. Stored in a breathable bag, such as a paper bag, in the fridge or a cool place, the mushrooms can keep for several days. Never store the mushrooms in a plastic bag as this turns them soggy and slimy. If storing longer term, place the mushrooms in a plastic container that just holds the mushrooms, sealing the top with plastic wrap. Poke holes in the top of the wrap to allow air and moisture to escape.