Gone are the days when the only kind of fungi you could find at the market was the white button mushroom. There are now all kinds of mushrooms, both wild and cultivated, widely available. Getting to know the character of different mushrooms is like wine tasting. 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. Here's a closer look at the top fungi among us, clockwise from the top left:
Notoriously difficult to cultivate, this golden-hued variety is usually foraged in the wild. It has a delicate, nutty flavor and a firm, somewhat chewy texture. Chanterelles are wonderful simply sauteed—use them to gild omelets, toasts, and even tacos.
Portobellos have roundish, dark-brown caps that can grow up to six inches in diameter. A prime source of potassium, the mushrooms offer more of this nutrient than bananas ounce for ounce. The caps' dense, meaty texture not only stands up well to stuffing, but it also makes them a great burger substitute on the grill.
Cone-shaped, spongy morels mainly grow wild in the spring. The darker the mushroom, the more intense the taste. Dried morels are available year-round and have an even stronger flavor than fresh. Try sauteing fresh morels with seasonal vegetables such as asparagus, peas, or fava beans and serving over pasta.
The shaggy-capped, umbrella-shaped shiitake grows on fallen logs of the oak trees (shii in Japanese) from which it gets its name. Shiitakes are available year round and sought after for their smoky, woodsy flavor, they are especially delicious roasted or stir-fried.
Rich, earthy maitakes are one of the most treasured mushrooms of autumn. Also called "hen of the woods" because of their resemblance to the fowl's tail, they have a ruffled shape and grow in big brown clusters at the base of hardwood trees. Their firm texture holds up well in soups and stews. They can also be sauteed and used to crown polenta squares or tucked into a savory bread pudding.
Available fresh in the late spring and fall, these wild mushrooms are prized for their aromatic flavor and smooth texture, especially in Italy and France (where they're known as cepes). They're delicious served raw over salads or cooked and served atop risotto.
Delicate, threadlike enoki are usually imported in vacuum-packed bags: Choose firm, ivory-colored bunches. They're wonderful raw in salads, and Japanese soups such as miso soup are often served with a sprinkling of these mushrooms. But our latest, greatest way to eat enokis? Wrapped in bacon, threaded onto skewers, and grilled, brushed with homemade teriyaki sauce.