When selecting mushrooms individually, choose firm mushrooms that do not have soft spots, are not wet, and are not bruised. Avoid buying unwrapped mushrooms if the grocer positions them openly on low shelves in just the right place for little children germs to be deposited. Is there a clean metal grabber to use instead of your hands when you pick up the mushroom? If not, that means hands have been all over those mushrooms. If that does not make you squeamish, then enjoy. If this bothers you – buy them packaged.
For packaged mushrooms, look through the cellophane, shifting the box to see as much as you can. Give the little box a whiff to determine if there may be mold, the aroma should be earthy, not sour. That should be sufficient. You may have to slice off a few squishy spots, but for the most part the mushrooms will be fine.
Do not bother buying pre-sliced mushrooms. Compare the prices of pre-sliced vs do-it-yourself. It’s far more mindful to slice.
Remove the mushrooms from the container or plastic bag and place them, unwashed, inside a brown paper lunch bag. The bag provides just the right combination of breathability with protection from light. They will last twice as long when stored in this way.
A friend of mine is the spouse of a mushroom grower. I asked her that number one question on the mind of every mushroom cook – should you brush the mushroom clean with a fancy mushroom brush, rub it with a paper towel, or rinse and dry it?
Mushrooms are grown in composted straw and horse manure. So, yes it is very important for the mushroom to be thoroughly cleaned and that means rinsing it very well. Brushing is inadequate to remove the unpleasant bits. Mushroom growers wash mushrooms thoroughly in cold water and pat them dry.
The good news here is that as there is no need to invest in a mushroom brush, you get to use the money you saved to buy more mushrooms.
Eating and Cooking with Mushrooms
Eat them stem and all – just slice off any hardened bits at the end of the stem. Slice them thickly, thinly, stuff the large ones, or leave the bite sized ones whole.
Each type of mushroom has its own character. Use assertive mushrooms such as shitake in a dish that is strongly seasoned. If you are trying to hide mushrooms from your persnickety child, then go for crimini or button and chop them up small.
Though mushrooms have a best use, it does not mean you are stuck with one mushroom. If you prefer another variety than what the recipe calls for, go ahead and add it. Yes, criminis are not going to make a stir fry taste the same as shitakes, but if you don’t care for shitakes, then that will be a good thing.
Experiment with different varieties. You may well find a new favorite. Let’s look at a few of the most common varieties.
White button mushrooms hold the most liquid and are good choices for soups and stews. They are one of the most readily available mushrooms.
Brown criminis are small to medium and “meaty” in consistency which makes them a great meat replacement in a stew, soup, or sauce – and they are perfect for caramelizing. Left whole or cut large, they add a pop of flavor to any dish. I use criminis as my go-to mushroom.. Larger criminis are my mushroom of choice for Walnut Stuffed Mushrooms.
Portobellos (also correctly written as portabellas) are large in diameter and brownish. They are wonderful grilled or stuffed. One of our favorite ways to use portobellos is to grill them, slice lengthwise, and add to a tortilla with caramelized peppers and salsa.
Shitakes are an interesting mushroom. Don’t worry about the white specks, it’s not mold, it’s spores and they are good for you. Trim the stems and cut the mushroom into strips for adding to a wok. Shitakes are available in both dried and fresh. Dried shitakes last indefinitely in your cabinet and plump up nicely following package directions – usually 30 minutes in warm water. They are delicious in light brothy soups or saucy dishes.
Porcinis are a wonderful mushroom that pairs beautifully with Italian recipes. They too are most often purchased dried. Keep a pack on hand and you’ll be ready the next time a recipe calls for them. Rehydrate per package directions and treat them like fresh mushrooms.
A trip to an Asian market will lead to a great number of more unusual to Americans mushrooms. Two of my favorites are oyster and enoki mushrooms which are perfect for soup. Oyster mushrooms combine very well with other mushrooms, including shitake.
What is your favorite mushroom?