Early Greeks and Romans are thought to be among the first cultivators of mushrooms, using them in a wide array of dishes. Today there are literally thousands of varieties of this fleshy fungus. Sizes and shapes vary tremendously and colors can range from white to black with a full gamut of colors in between.
The cap's texture can be smooth, pitted, honeycombed or ruffled and flavors range from bland to rich, nutty and earthy. The cultivated mushroom is what's commonly found in most U.S. Supermarkets today. However, those that more readily excite the palate are the more exotic wild mushrooms such as cepe, chanterelle, enoki, morel, puffball, shiitake and wood ear.
Know Your Mushrooms
Because so many wild mushrooms are poisonous, it's vitally important to know which species are edible and which are not. Extreme caution should be taken when picking them yourself.
Fresh mushrooms should be stored with cool air circulating around them. Therefore, they should be placed on a tray in a single layer, covered with a damp paper towel and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Before use, they should be wiped with a damp paper towel or, if necessary, rinsed with cold water and dried thoroughly.
You can also store mushrooms in the refrigerator in a brown paper bag - never a plastic one. Otherwise they become slimy. Paper lets the mushrooms breathe while holding in the humidity that keeps them fresh.
Alternatively, store mushrooms unwashed and covered with a damp paper towel, then place inside a brown paper bag.
Mushrooms should never be soaked because they absorb water and will become mushy. Trim the stem ends and prepare according to directions.
Canned mushrooms are available in several forms including whole, chopped, sliced and caps only. Frozen or freeze-dried mushrooms are also available. Dried mushrooms are available either whole or in slices, bits or pieces. They should be stored in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months. Mushrooms are one of nature's most versatile foods and can be used in hundreds of ways and cooked in almost any way imaginable.
Mushrooms are available all year round. They are best November through March. Caps should be closed around the stems. Avoid black or brown gills as this is a sign of old age. The tops are more tender than the stems. Refrigerate after purchase and use as soon as possible.
Mushroom Food Facts & Tips
Ground, dehydrated morel mushrooms make a wonderful concentrated seasoning for meat dishes, soups and gravies.
Never immerse mushrooms in a pan of cold water when cleaning, since they will absorb too much water. This will also make it more difficult to cook them, without losing flavor.
Mushrooms contain the same flavor enhancing substance found in MSG, glutamic acid.
Keep mushrooms from molding or getting mushy during storage by leaving them unwashed. Wrap them loosely in paper towels, refrigerate in plastic or paper bags, and use as quickly as possible.
Mushrooms are 90 percent water and do contain some natural toxins. It is best not to eat too many raw ones; cooking tends to kill the toxins.
There are 38,000 varieties of mushrooms, some edible, some very poisonous.
Truffles grow underground, are an oak or hazel tree fungus and are found by pig or dog sniffing truffellors. There are two types, black and white. They have a distinctive taste and are prized by many chefs in France and Italy. They are very expensive.
Slicing mushrooms is a cinch if you use an egg slicer. Cut downward from the rounded side of the cap. The fresher the mushrooms are the better this method works.
A chemical compound extracted from shiitake mushrooms has been approved as an anticancer drug in Japan after it was proven to repress cancer cells in laboratory studies.
A rule of thumb for substituting canned mushrooms for fresh ones is a 6-ounce can equals 1/2-pound of fresh mushrooms.
To keep mushrooms white and firm when sauteing them, add a teaspoon of lemon juice to each quarter pound of butter.
If you are not sure of the safety of a mushroom, do not eat it regardless of the following test. However, the experts use the method of sprinkling salt on the spongy part, or the gills. If they turn yellow, they are poisonous, if they turn black they are safe.
Mushroom Meat Substitute: Chop oyster or shiitake mushrooms into small cubes and use in place of ground meat. You can also mix mushrooms with chopped fried tofu for a firmer texture.
Mushroom Stock. For a quick stock, soak 5 large shiitake mushrooms in 4 cups boiling water for 1 hour. You can also add dried shiitake mushrooms to a pot of vegetable stock for added flavor.
Just Like Bacon. Toss oyster mushrooms in extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place on a lined baking sheet gill-side up. Roast at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until edges are crisp.
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