RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—"Magic" mushrooms may bring to mind crazy days in the '60s, or a camping trip ended too quickly due to some uninformed foraging. But mushrooms have been found recently to have some pretty magical benefits for your health. White button, oyster, and maitake mushrooms have compounds that researchers have found protect against breast and prostate cancer, and those same white button mushrooms were recently found in a study published in the journal Biomed Central to prevent the buildup of plaques that cause heart disease. So don't just relegate them to the status of pizza toppings or steak accompaniments. Learn to cook with mushrooms so you can ward off chronic diseases while adding a variety of rich flavors to your dishes.
Wild or Farmed? Depends on the Season
Understanding when mushrooms typically come into season is confusing, since both wild and farmed varieties are harvested year-round. It is only the mushroom foraged from the wild that has a particular season, and some varieties of those will start appearing at farmer's markets this time of year. Autumn porcinis are delicious with orange-colored squashes and cruciferous greens, while winter chanterelles are wonderful with beans and legumes. Next spring, keep an eye out for early-spring morels, which pair naturally with asparagus, ramps, and fiddlehead ferns.
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Because true wild mushrooms are perishable and available only in season, they are often found at supermarkets in a dried or powdered form. In this way they can be used as a seasoning. The ability of mushrooms, fresh or dried, to intensify a dish qualifies them as an ‘umami’ or flavor enhancer that heightens the taste receptors. Dried porcini or cèpes, morels, black trumpets, and even chanterelles can be found bagged and ready to add to quick sautés, soups, or pasta sauces. They only require a quick hydration in warm water or vegetable broth. Save the soaking liquid to use as a mushroom broth for your next soup or stew, or dissolve mushroom powder into hot chicken broth or vegetable broth to make a mushroom broth to use as a poaching liquid or soup base.
The most common farmed mushroom, available year-round, takes different names depending on the stage of its development. The button mushroom begins life a pale white or light brown. As it grows and darkens, the mushroom is called a cremini, and in its next stage, it is sold as a portobello. Other familiar farm-raised mushrooms include oysters, enokis, and shiitakes.
Mushrooms should be stored so that cool air circulates around them. Remove mushrooms from store-bought plastic bags and transfer them to a paper bag or a tray covered with a moist towel. Domestic mushrooms can be washed, but preferably not submerged in water for a long time, since they will soak up water and become soggy. Use a toothbrush to remove debris from foraged mushrooms, or wipe with a towel.
Cooking mushrooms to the proper temperature is important when trying to maximize flavor. Use a hot, well-oiled pan and cook until golden. More flavor will be extracted from the mushrooms if they're browned before being added to a broth or sauce. Season them to taste with salt, pepper, and fresh herbs. A sprinkling of fresh lemon juice will brighten the mushroom flavor, as well.
Although all mushrooms can be enjoyed in a simple sauté of olive oil with herbs, matching certain cooking techniques to each type of can enhance the mushroom's texture and flavor. Buttons and creminis are the most versatile. They can be sliced raw into a salad, sautéed quickly in a stir-fry, or stewed slowly in a broth. Portobellos are best grilled or oven-roasted to achieve a crisp caramelized skin, keeping them moist and tender inside. Oyster mushrooms are more delicate and are best browned quickly. They will get soggy and limp if left to overcook. The strawlike texture of enoki mushrooms makes them appealing as a raw salad or soup garnish. Shiitakes have a distinctive flavor that usually stars in a dish; allow them to marinate overnight in a citrus dressing to tenderize before cooking. Sautéing them until golden will result in yet another distinctive taste.
Ready to try your hand at making the most of seasonal mushrooms? Try these recipes:
Mushroom a la Grecque (Pickled Mushrooms)
These tasty mushrooms are nice on their own as a canapé or tossed into a salad as a condiment.
2 pounds white button mushrooms, cut into quarters
1 cup white wine
1 cup champagne or apple cider vinegar
½ cup olive oil
3 cups water
4 cloves garlic
4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
20 black peppercorns
15 coriander seeds
6 branches parsley
2 sprigs oregano
2 sprigs thyme
Set mushrooms aside in a glass jar or bowl. Place remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and allow to steep for 20 minutes. Strain over mushrooms and top with water to cover. Let cool to room temperature before refrigerating.
This full-flavored condiment is a perfect steak sauce, reminiscent of Worcestershire sauce.
Yields 1 quart
2 pounds portobello mushrooms, diced into ½-inch pieces
1 4-inch knob ginger root, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch pieces
2 shallots, sliced into ¼-inch pieces
3 Tablespoons salt
1¼ cups red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon each ground ginger and nutmeg
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
Layer mushrooms, ginger, and shallots with salt and let marinate for two days. Put the mushrooms with their released liquid and the vinegar and spices into a 3-quart saucepan and cook until dry. Add broth and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, until flavor intensifies. Puree in a food processor until smooth. Let cool and store in covered jars.
Toasted Angel Hair Pasta in Wild Mushroom Broth
Toasting the angel hair maintains the structure of the pasta and allows it to absorb the flavorful broth without getting sticky. Porcini powder gives the broth an added mushroom flavor, but the dish is also delicious without it.
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound dried angel hair pasta
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cups mushroom stock (see recipe below)
To toast pasta, set oven at 350 degrees F. Rub olive oil throughout dried raw pasta until absorbed. Spread evenly on sheet pan and bake until golden brown in oven, about 10 minutes. Drop into boiling water and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Strain and cool under running water. Set aside.
Mushroom Stock Ingredients:
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium peeled onion, diced into ¼-inch pieces
½ pound mixed wild mushrooms, such as oyster, shiitake, or black trumpet
1 quart water or chicken broth
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup porcini powder (optional)
2 cups cleaned, chopped spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add onion and cook on low heat until caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add mushrooms and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to caramelize and cover with water or stock and allow to cook, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
Whisk in porcini powder. Drop in spinach and cook an additional 3 minutes until wilted. Add cooked pasta and serve.
Diane Forley is chef and owner of Flourish Baking Company, a vegetable-inspired bakeshop that offers savory pies, artisanal breads, and fruit confections.
Published on: October 12, 2010