Mushroom 101

erin mcdowell, of, offers tips on how to cook different kinds of mushrooms.

Food Findings

Mushroom 101

A crash course on how to choose and use mushrooms

-Erin McDowell,

MushroomsIt is easy to be surprised by the number of mushrooms that have become commonly available in most grocery stores. This gives cooks a much larger palette to choose from when making dishes with mushrooms. So how do you decide? There are a number of factors to consider. Flavor varies vastly from one variety of mushroom to another. Textures can be soft, meaty, chewy or tender. Size can vary from large, stuffable mushrooms to small mushrooms perfect for slicing.

There are also huge differences in price: wild mushrooms or mushrooms that are difficult to cultivate will be more expensive but their great flavor is often worth the price. Use them in dishes where they will truly stand out. Dried mushrooms can be more costly than fresh, as it is easier to sell specialty mushrooms in this form. Rehydrate them in warm water for 15 minutes, and don’t forget to make use of the liquid later in the recipe. Nowadays, common varieties of mushrooms can be found pre-cut in grocery stores. This may make for one less step for the cook, but they are more expensive and are more prone to spoilage.

But a few things are true for all mushrooms. Look for firm, dry mushrooms. Since they are cultivated in soil and grow close to the ground, most mushrooms will have specks of dirt. If possible, brush the dirt away from the caps and stems. Some recipes will warn against washing mushrooms, as they easily absorb water. But for especially dirty mushrooms, a quick rinse in cool water won’t hurt.

While there are thousands of types of edible mushrooms, here’s a list of the most commonly found mushrooms and some ideas of how to use them.

Portobello: These large mushrooms (also occasionally mislabeled as Portabello or Portobella) are known for their large caps and stems. Because they are so large, they hold up well to a variety of different kinds of cooking, such as grilling, roasting, pan-frying, and sautéing. Since it has firm flesh and a meaty taste, it can often stand alone as the main component of a dish.

Cremini: Commonly known as brown mushrooms and sometimes labeled as “Baby Portobellos,” these mushrooms are small, easy to use in a variety of dishes, and very commonly available. Use them wherever you could use white mushrooms, as they are generally said to have more flavor. Add them to a stir fry, casseroles, or pasta for great texture and incredible mushroom flavor.

White (Button): These small mushrooms are the most commonly available and used in recipes, though they do not have as strong of flavor as other mushrooms. They are good raw, or cooked in dishes with more subtle flavors and spices, such as soups, salads, or side dishes.

Shiitake: Originating from Eastern Asia, this mushroom is commonly found in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai cuisines. However, its earthy flavor makes it great for all types of dishes. Ground with garlic, it makes delicious mushroom dumplings that are excellent for soup.

Other mushrooms: Oyster, Chanterelle, Porcini, Morel and Truffles are other types of mushrooms that can occasionally be found in groceries, specialty stores, or farmer’s markets, fresh or dried. Truffles, an extremely expensive mushroom prized for its distinct flavor, can also be found in specialty salts and oils. Add a sprinkle or drizzle to meats, soups or salads for a burst of flavor.

Curried Pasta

Curried Pasta with Shrimp, Snap Peas, and Shiitake Mushrooms
Serves 4

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup snap peas, trimmed and cut in half
1-1/2 cup shiitakes, sliced thinly
1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp curry paste
1 can coconut milk
juice of 1 lime
salt, to taste
1 Tbsp oil
1 pound shrimp, cleaned, shelled, and deveined
salt, as needed
pepper, as needed
1 package lo mein noodles (or any other plain pasta), cooked

1. Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the snap peas, mushrooms, and scallions and sauté until beginning to become tender.

2. Add the curry paste and mix in well to disperse. Add the coconut milk and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir to make sure the curry paste is evenly dispersed. Season with fresh lime juice, salt, and cilantro. Keep warm.

3. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Sauté until pink and cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Set aside.

4. Add the shrimp and cooked noodles to the curry sauce. Toss well to coat. Serve warm, garnished with scallions and cilantro.

Soft Shell Crabs with Asparagus and Mushroom Salad

Soft Shell Crabs with Asparagus and Mushroom Salad
Serves 4

1 bunch asparagus, stalks cut in half
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 leek, thinly sliced
1-1/2 cups cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
salt, as needed
pepper, as needed
4 soft shell crabs, cleaned
salt, as needed
pepper, as needed
flour, as needed
2-4 Tbsp oil

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until tender, about 4-5 minutes. If desired, shock in an ice bath to stop cooking and retain an especially green color. Set aside.

2. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the shallots and leeks until tender, 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender, 3 minutes more. Add the asparagus and toss. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Season the crab with salt and pepper. Dredge the crab in the flour to coat.

4. Heat the oil over medium-high heat, and add the crab. Cook until the crab is bright red and crisp, about 4-5 minutes on each side. Serve over the mushroom and asparagus sauté.

Creamy Wild Mushroom Spread

Creamy Wild Mushroom Spread
Makes about 1½ cups

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 cups wild mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt, as needed
pepper, as needed
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 Tbsp parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp rosemary, chopped
1 Tbsp chives, chopped

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and mushrooms and sauté until lightly brown and softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Remove the mixture from the heat, and stir in the cheeses and herbs. Serve with bread, garlic toasts, or crackers. This dip is good warm or at room temperature.

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