A Short Guide to Mushrooms

For great flavor, experiment with the various mushrooms in the stores and markets.

by FamilyTime

Thousands of different kinds of edible mushrooms grow all over the world, although home cooks have access only to a fraction of these. This is partly because of availability and also because some mushrooms are not safe to eat.

The good news is that more and more varieties of edible mushrooms show up every year in our supermarkets and farmer's markets. All provide glorious, deep, earthy flavor. These fungi might be called "wild mushrooms" or "forest mushrooms" or simply "specialty mushrooms."

Most states have mycological societies — organizations devoted to mushrooms. These groups forage for mushrooms in the cool, damp woods with a leader who is highly trained and knows which fungi are safe to eat. This can be a lot of fun for anyone who is interested. But please: Do not try this on your own.

Following are some of the more familiar types of mushrooms available to the home cook. When a recipe calls for a certain mushroom, try to find it. Otherwise, look for a similar one and always buy mushrooms from reliable purveyors.

Chanterelle: A golden-colored mushroom with a distinctive trumpet shape. Also called a girolle mushroom. Because they are not cultivated, these are hard to find but if you see them in the market, try them for their lovely apricot flavor and delicate texture.

Cremini: These common mushrooms are as all-purpose as the more familiar white mushroom, although they have a darker color and slightly fuller flavor. When they mature, they become portobellos. Cremini mushrooms are great in stews, soups -- anywhere you want earthy but not overpowering mushroom flavor.

Enoki: Delicate and mild, these white bunches of mushrooms with tiny caps and long, narrow stems are best served raw or barely cooked. Enoki mushrooms are often served in clear soups, particularly Japanese-style soups.
Morel: Morels are great favorites among mushrooms fanciers and therefore are much sought after for cream sauces and egg dishes. They have strong, musky flavor and a spongy cap.
Oyster: These are fan-shaped, mild mushrooms, tasting ever so slightly of the sea. Small oyster mushrooms are preferable to larger (older) ones, which can be bitter. These do best cooked lightly to preserve their texture.
Porcini: Earthy and delicious, these versatile mushrooms are sold dried more often than fresh in the United States, although fresh porcini are commonplace in Europe. They are also called cepes and boletes.
Portobello: Large and meaty, portobello are mature cremini mushrooms with wide, dark caps and rich flavor. As such, they can be roasted or grilled, as well as sautéed or served in soups, stews, and pasta dishes.
Shiitake: This popular mushroom is so widely cultivated it is easy to find far from its native Japan. Fresh shiitakes should be smooth with fleshy caps. Dried specimens will have lightly cracked, pale caps. Sauté, grill, stir-fry, or roast these versatile mushrooms.
White: Everyone knows these familiar mushrooms. They may be called button mushrooms, although true button mushrooms are young white mushrooms with tightly closed (buttoned) caps. Use these in stews, soups, sauces -- any recipe that calls for mushrooms. Large white mushrooms are good for stuffing.

Experiment with these mushrooms, knowing that all provide good flavor. For most of the more expensive ones, a little goes a long way, so trying them probably won't break the bank.