Cooked in soups, stews, stuffing, and sauces, or served raw in salads, mushrooms add texture and flavor to almost any dish. There was a time when the only kind of mushroom you could find at the market was the button mushroom. Now, a wide variety of mushrooms both wild and cultivated are widely available.
Getting to know the character of different mushrooms is like getting to know the character of different wines. Besides varying drastically in shape and texture, each one has an aroma, flavor, and intensity of its own. Familiarity with what makes one type of mushroom distinct from another will guide your choices as you experiment with them in your cooking.
Often imported from Europe, these mushrooms are sold dried or canned. They have a delicate, nutty flavor and a somewhat chewy texture. They make a wonderful mushroom soup, and are delicious sauteed in butter then finished with a little cream, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs, such as parsley or thyme.
These mushrooms resemble button mushrooms, but are darker in color and have a slightly fuller flavor. They make a wonderful ravioli filling and are perfect for marinating and grilling.
Delicate, threadlike enoki are usually imported in vacuum-packed bags: Choose firm, ivory-colored bunches. They are wonderful served raw in salads, but they are also delicious in a saute. Japanese soups such as miso soup are often served with a sprinkling of these mushrooms.
Hen of the Woods
These mushrooms have a ruffled shape and grow at the bases of hardwood trees. They impart a garlicky flavor when used in long-cooked soups and stews.
Fan-like oyster mushrooms grow in tightly piggybacked clumps on the trunks of deciduous trees. They can be seared, and they make beautiful garnishes for roasted meats and fish. When cooked in butter, they have a gentle flavor reminiscent of seafood.
Available fresh in the late spring and fall, these wild mushrooms are delicious served raw over salads, or cooked and served with polenta. Porcini mushrooms are also known as cepes.
Portobello mushrooms are actually fully mature creminis. Their cuplike caps and meaty texture make them perfect for stuffing, but they are just as delightful fried in garlic and olive oil, grilled then served over a salad, or served as an accompaniment to meats.
Prized for their smoky, earthy flavor, shiitakes are good roasted or stir-fried, and are particularly suited to Asian dishes.
These cultivated white mushrooms have been a supermarket staple since the 1940s. Mild in flavor and sturdy, they are perfect for stuffing. Raw, they are a flavorful addition to salads; sauteed, they add texture to a tomato or Madeira sauce.