Saturday, October 10, 2015

Mushrooms 101

The mushroom is the spore bearing and fruiting body of a fungus; they are neither a plant nor an animal but exist in a taxonomic Kingdom of their own - Fungi. Mushrooms typically grow above ground on soil or on, or more specifically off of, their own growing medium (food source). The term Mushroom usually applies to a fungi that has a stem (stipe), a cap (pileus) and gills (lamella) – other common sporulating structures are pores, teeth, or ridges.

A mushroom can either be edible, poisonous or unpalatable. There are many types of mushrooms, roughly as many different Fungi exist as plants in the world. Edible mushrooms are used in cooking and in many cuisines, but there are also toxic mushrooms, psychoactive mushrooms and mushrooms used for medicinal purposes. When one thinks of mushrooms they usually think of the common white button mushroom (Agaricus bosporus) but there are several varieties.

The gills produce microscopic spores, the “seeds” by which Fungi reproduce. Spores are spread by wind, water, and animal activity. The powdery impression left by the spores of a mushroom is one of the features that help to identify the specific variety. The mushroom is placed gill side down on a blank sheet of paper, covered to prevent wind action, for several hours and the spore print left behind is used to assist in identification. This has been one of the standard methods for identifying mushrooms used since medieval times. The print colors can be white brown, black, purple brown, pink, yellow, creamy, etc..

Today’s identification has become more molecular in nature, with microscopic data leading the way toward a clearer understanding of the myriad varieties of Fungi. Other ways of identifying mushrooms include looking for the presence of fluids, bruising reactions, smells, taste, shades of color, habitat and seasonality. Chemical tests are also used.

Alba Clamshell

Alba Clamshell Mushrooms (Beech or Hon Shimeji) are mostly cultivated but do exist in the wild. They have a quarter-size cap with 2 to 3 inch white stems. The name beech refers to their appearance on beech trees, other hosts are elms and cottonwoods. In the wild, they grow high up on the trunk of a dead or dying tree in a multi-headed mass out of a crack in the wood.

Chanterelles are orange or yellow, meaty and funnel-shaped. The cap is fleshy, with wavy, rounded cap margins tapering downward to meet the stem. The gills are ridges that are forked and usually with blunt edges that are the same color as the rest of the mushroom. Chanterelles emit a fruity aroma, reminiscent of apricots or peach. They can be found in areas with trees such as eastern white pine, oak, hemlock, and balsam fir, birch, beech, and spruce trees.

Chicken of the Woods
Chicken of the Woods (L. sulphureus) have bright orange-yellow on top with a bright yellow margin. They are usually overlapping, fan-shaped flat caps, with pores, growing as a shelf or as attached bunches at the base of a tree. Chicken of the Woods grow on dead, or mature and dying, trees such as oak or beech trees.

King Oyster/Trumpet Royale
King Oyster or Trumpet Royale is a cultivated mushroom and one of the largest species of oyster mushroom. It has a thick, meaty white stem and a small tan cap. They are very versatile with a firm, meaty texture, and long shelf life.

Lobster mushroom has a color similar to cooked lobster meat or lobster shell and can have a seafood-like aroma. The cap is irregular and usually concave. Lobster Mushrooms can be found under a variety of trees like hemlocks.

Maitake (a.k.a Hen of the Woods) appeared rippling and fan shaped. They are composed of clusters of flattened caps; grayish brown on top with a white porous surface beneath; single, branching, whitish base. Maitake grow on the ground, typically at the base of oak trees.

Morel mushrooms are hollow with honeycomb cap, black/ridges and yellow/brown pits. Morels are the number one targeted wild mushrooms for foragers in the Spring. They can be found among fallen forest leaves and grasses on spring days between 60 and 80 degrees.

Oyster mushrooms can be gray, pale yellow or even blue with a velvety texture with whitish gills that run down a stubby, nearly-absent stem. They grow like shelves from the surface of dead hardwood trees.

Shiitake mushrooms have a medium-sized, umbrella-shaped, tan to brown cap that is slightly convex that range in diameter from about two to four inches. Native to Asia, the edges of the cap roll inwards. The underside and stem are white. Shiitake mushrooms grow in groups on the decaying wood of deciduous trees, particularly shii, chestnut, oak, maple, beech, sweetgum, poplar, hornbeam, ironwood, mulberry, and chinquapin.

Velvet Piopinni (Poplar)
Velvet Piopinni, or Poplar mushroom, is a cultivated mushroom with brown caps and white long creamy stems. They have an intense forest flavor. The unique robust flavor of the Velvet Pioppini has already made it a hit with chefs all over America.

For a list and information on edible varieties go to this page from the Mushroom Council and this page from Wikipedia - Edible Mushrooms. Also check out Chowhound's Ultimate Guide to Mushrooms for great visuals.

Mushroom hunting or foraging is the activity of searching for and collecting wild mushrooms mostly for edible purposes. To read more go here.

The term mushroom or toadstool goes back for centuries though the origin of it is not known. It is known that the ancient Egyptians believed that mushrooms made them immortal and Fungi was reserved only for royalty. The word mushroom may have been derived from the French word mousseron (meaning moss or in French, mousse). The French were the first to formally cultivate mushrooms and some say that Louis the XIV was the first mushroom grower. Production then moved to England and in the 19th century mushroom production made it’s way to the United States. China is now the largest producer of cultivated mushrooms. The term toadstool was often applied to poisonous mushrooms and may be a direct reference to a certain species of poisonous toads. For more interesting history and background on mushroom and their cultivation go here.

Did you know that in some regions mushrooms are regarded as magical or satanic? They are believed to be the Devil’s fruit as they appear quickly overnight from underground. Also mushrooms have been used to dye wool and natural fibers and their are over 30 varieties that glow in the dark. For more fun facts about mushrooms go here and here. For more information about mushrooms go here.

To Store 

Store fresh mushrooms properly they can last up to a week. Do not clean or cut the mushrooms before storing and store them in a paper bag in the main compartment of the refrigerator. The crisper drawer is too moist of an environment and the paper bag will help to absorb the moisture. Also, don’t store mushrooms near foods that have a strong odor as mushrooms will absorb the smell like a sponge. Some types of mushrooms will hold up better than others so it is advised that when purchasing mushrooms that you purchase close to the date you will consume them. For more information on how to store mushrooms go to this page from The Kitchn. To preserve mushrooms for later use try freezing or drying them. For tips on freezing go here and here. For three methods for drying mushrooms go here

To Nourish

Mushrooms are naturally low in sodium, fat, cholesterol and calories. They are rich in B Vitamins, Riboflavin, Folate, Thiamine, Pantothenic Acid and Niacin. They are also a source of Vitamin D. Mushrooms also contain several minerals such as Selenium, Potassium, Copper, Iron and Phosphorus. Mushrooms also have a type of fiber called beta glucans, which improve insulin resistance and blood cholesterol levels. They have been linked to diabetes and cancer prevention and contribute to cardiovascular health. Mushrooms are also known to improve ones immune response. They can play a role in weight management acting as a bulking agent that contains two types of dietary fiber (beta-glucan and chitin) that increase satiety and reduce appetite. For more information on the health benefits of mushrooms check out this page from the Mushroom Council here.

To Prepare

Mushrooms are grown on wood, mulch, and dirt so cleaning your mushrooms is a good idea. Many people have been told to avoid getting their mushrooms wet and to clean them with a special brush. If real dirt is evident it is okay to wash your mushrooms as they absorb relatively little water if you work quickly. For a great video tutorial check this video out from Martha Stewart. For information on the preparation of your favorite varieties go to this page from Serious Eats. Some mushrooms can be eaten raw (confirm if you are not certain), but generally they are great sautéed, baked, grilled and roasted. They can be pickled and preserved or even turned into a pate. For more interesting ways to use your mushrooms go here and for 34 ideas to introduce mushrooms to your kids go here. For information on how to grill Maitake, aka Hen of the Woods, mushrooms go to this great article from Bon Appetit.

To Try 

Pickled Mushrooms
Marinated Mushrooms
Red Wine and Mushroom Sauce
Wild Mushroom Ragout on Crispy Polenta with Comte Cheese
Wild Mushroom and Burrata Bruschetta
Cabbage and Mushroom Toasts
Hummus with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms
Swiss Chard and Maitake Mushroom Galette
Soba and Maitake Mushrooms in Soy Broth
Mushroom Barley Soup with Mini Meatballs
Two Mushroom Veloute
Tom Kha Gai (Chicken and Mushroom Coconut Soup)
Wild Mushroom Soup with Parmesan Toasts
Warm Mushroom Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette
Eggs baked over Sautéed Mushrooms and Spinach
Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Omelette
Over the Top Mushroom Quiche
Mushroom Kufteh with Green Harissa and Asparagus Pesto
Seared Maitake Mushroom
Grilled Hen of the Woods Mushrooms (Maitake) with Sesame
Roasted King Oyster Mushrooms
Foiled Roasted Mushrooms with Hazelnuts and Chives
Roasted Mushrooms with Chile Lemon Oil
Marco Canora's Pan Roasted Hen of the Woods Mushrooms
Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Chantrelles
Sautéed Mixed Mushrooms
Sautéed Clamshell Mushrooms
Sautéed Chanterelles with Bacon
Mixed Mushroom Ragout
Morel Mushrooms with Mint, Peas and Shallot
Asparagus with Morels and Tarragon
Sourdough, Wild Mushrooms and Bacon Dressing
Grits with Wild Mushrooms and Sherry Broth
Polenta with Wild Mushrooms
Wild Mushroom Quesadillas
Sausage, Red Onion and Wild Mushroom Pizza
Wild Mushroom Pizza with Truffle Oil
Wild Mushroom Pizza with Caramelized Onion, Fontina and Rosemary
Grilled Fontina, Mushroom and Sage Sandwich
Mushroom Croque Monsieur
Stir Fried Noodles with Chanterelles
Pappardelle with Mixed Wild Mushrooms
Mushroom Orzotto
Creamy Orzo Risotto with Meyer Lemon and Wild Mushrooms
Fettuccine with Mushrooms, Tarragon and Goat Cheese Sauce
Fettuccine with King Oyster Mushrooms
Tagliatelle with Black Truffle Cream Sauce
Pappardelle with Porcini and Pistachios
Wild Mushroom Lasagna
Homemade Mushroom Lasagna
Pan Roasted Halibut with Clamshell Mushrooms and Lemon Butter Sauce
Halibut with Marinated Chanterelles and Chamomile
Roasted Morel Rubbed Chicken with Charred Lemon, Asparagus and Potatoes
Chicken with Wild Mushrooms
Chicken Breast with Velvet Pioppini and Tarragon
Chicken and Dumplings with Mushrooms
Prosciutto Stuffed Chicken with Mushroom Sauce
New York Steak with Clamshell Mushrooms
Beef with Wild Mushrooms

To Use

Chef and cooking teacher Becky Selengut's cookbook Shroom feeds our enduring passion for foraged and wild foods by exploring 15 types of mushrooms, including detailed how-to's on everything home cooks need to know to create 75 inventive, internationally-flavored mushroom dishes. Shroom is a book for anyone looking to add mushrooms to their diet, find new ways to use mushrooms as part of a diet trending towards less meat, or diversify their repertoire with mushroom-accented recipes inspired from Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines, among others. (Barnes & Noble, $25.32)