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Mushroom Primer

October 27, 2006

White -- also known as button or Champignons de Paris -- are the most popular in the United States. They range in size from small to the size of a large portabella. They are crunchy in a salad, or served raw, but take well to sautéing and other methods of cooking.

Crimini -- also known as baby portabellas. Ranging in color from tan to dark brown, they have a more meaty flavor than their cousins the white mushroom, adding a richness to cooked dishes. They, too, take well to being cooked just about any way.

Portabella -- also known as Portobello - mature crimini that have “opened”, showing their dark veils underneath. Their stem must be removed, but can be used in soup and stocks. They add a very dominant meatiness and are rarely used in salads, more often grilled, broiled, or roasted whole, or, if sliced, sautéed.

Shiitake -- For many, this is their favorite mushroom, because it has an earthy, distinct flavor. Their caps are medium-brown and parasol shaped, their stems curved, and their gills are white. They are most often sautéed, being used in soups stir-fries, steak sauces, and over vegetables or meats. Their stems are usually tough and need to be trimmed, but can be used in stocks.

Enoki - Their little tiny caps and slender stems are crunchy and mild and are usually served raw or briefly cooked.

Oyster - Amazingly, the caps are indeed shaped like oyster shells. They are usually soft grey when sold, but if not, will turn grey when cooked. Like the enoki, their flavor is delicate and want only the briefest of cooking for stir-fries, sauces and Asian style soups. Their stems are tough and should be trimmed.

Blue Foot - This is an uncommon mushroom, with blue stems, and an anise flavor. Particularly delicious with fennel, it is more often seen cooked then uncooked.

Chanterelles - Nutty tasting, with a color of pink to orange, these vase-shaped mushrooms are delicate in taste and should be added at the last minute. These are the ones that grew in front of my house in Georgia.

Porcini - These can range from one inch in diameter to ten inches. Pale brown, they look like toadstools in fairy tales. They are wonderful in risottos, sautés, and pastas.

Morels-- dimpled and cone shaped, they are hard to clean and wonderful to eat. A relative of the truffle, they have earthy taste and are best sautéed.

Mixed packages of mushrooms are also sold, hence recipes that call for mixed varieties of mushrooms. This gives more interest and variety to a recipe.

Cleaning of mushrooms:

Do not soak. Quickly run them under water in a colander, then pat dry. Alternately, wipe with a damp paper towel. There are mushroom brushes for sale as well.

To store:

The Mushroom Council recommends storing them up to one week in their store-packaging. When loose, keep in a closed paper bag or wrapped in paper towels to absorb moisture. Don’t use a plastic bag.

Dried Mushrooms: Many mushrooms are sold dried. They must be hydrated in hot water before using. Their liquid is useable, but should be strained first. They have a more intense flavor than fresh, and should be used sparingly until their strength is determined.

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