Would I say I have a passion for mushrooms? No … but would I say I love mushrooms? That would be a definite, yes! I cook with them all the time. They add flavor, they finish off a perfect steak and they are great in a salad. Raw, sautéed, cold in an anti-pasta, I have to say I do enjoy the flavor. I know a lot of people do not like mushrooms because let’s face it: they are a fungus. They are a staple for me though and a must have in my kitchen.

My fellow mushroom lovers and I are lucky because most supermarkets and specialty produce stores carry a wide variety of mushrooms. The supermarket foragers are even luckier because they can find both wild and cultivated mushrooms at various times of the year. The wild ones are of course harder to come by (almost like foraging), but you can find a lot of the domestic exotics that are commercially grown.  Regardless of what type of mushrooms you are using, choose those that are firm and slightly moist, showing no signs of decay. Warm air and water will cause mushrooms to decay, so keep them cool and dry. Store them in a basket or an open paper bag in the refrigerator and don’t clean them until you’re ready to use. If stored properly, they should last four to five days.

Cleaning mushrooms is something I do I have a pet peeve about.  Many times I will see people literally giving them a bath.  I try to educate everyone that you don’t actually wash the mushroom because that will make them soggy. I simply wipe them clean with a damp cloth or scrape them with a paring knife. I personally wouldn’t waste your money on those cute little mushroom brushes either; I bought one of those cute brushes and I have found that a damp cloth works best. You will want to cook the mushrooms as soon as they are cleaned because they will start to decay faster at that point.

One can eat a mushroom raw (like button mushrooms), but most should be thoroughly cooked because they have proteins that can be difficult to digest unless you do so. A fresh mushroom is mostly water, which contains a high concentration of flavor. When you cook mushrooms, cook them long enough that all the water is released and then keep cooking them until the liquid has evaporated as well.

Here a list of a few of my favorite wild ones you can find from time to time (if you’re lucky):

Porcini: Wonderful for grilling. Grill the caps and top them with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese

Chanterelles: These golden beauties are in season from early summer through early winter, and they pair very well with game animals or shellfish.

Black Trumpets: These look very similar to the chanterelle, except they are black and they have delicious buttery woodsy flavor to them.

Morels: Offering an earthy flavor that pairs well with chicken or veal, these have a very short season, so buy them when you find them in early spring to July. They’re also great in butter or cream sauces and in grain or rice dishes.

These are cultivated ones, which you can find pretty much all year long:

Button: Great for soups and pasta sauces or just sautéed in butter garlic and white wine (and my secret—a few drops of soy sauce).

Portobello and/or Cremini: The portobello is really just an overgrown cremini, and it’s great for grilling, since they have an almost meaty flavor to them. One of my husband’s favorites is a portobello sandwich, which illustrates just how much flavor they have. The cremini is one of my all-time favorites because of the flavor it adds to sauces, on top of pizzas or just sautéed and served hot or cold with an antipasto dish.

Shiitakes: They provide a delightful and distinct smoky flavor. Mostly used in Asian cooking but they can also be eaten raw, I would just stay away from the stems because they tend to be much tougher.

Oyster: Great sautéed and served with poultry or fish; they have a subtle flavor.

Enoki: Resembling long white pushpins or bobby pins, these are great raw in salads or as a garnish for a soup.

I have saved the best tip for last: Just in case you have forgotten, you can always used dried mushrooms when you cannot find what you need fresh. You can always find dried shiitakes, porcini, morels and chanterelles. The flavor of dried mushrooms is concentrated and intense and the texture is good. Like fresh mushrooms, they’re terrific in everything from soups, sauces, and even sautés. You have to rehydrate them, though, even if you are going to use them in a soup or stew.  You do this by covering them with boiling water in a bowl and then weighing them down with a small plate so they stay covered. Soak them until they’re plumped and softened, typically for about 20 minutes. Once they’re hydrated, squeeze out the excess water, but reserve the water since it will have tremendous flavor. Then just remove the tough stems and you are ready to go. You can strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter and use it for your dish or just freeze for future use.

But wait … it gets better! Mushrooms are a low-calorie food with only about 27 calories in a typical serving of fresh mushrooms. Also, a 3.5 ounce serving of mushrooms is an excellent source (more than 20% of the Daily Value, DV) of B vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid. They are also an excellent source of the essential minerals, selenium (37% DV) and copper (25% DV), and a good source (10-19% DV) of phosphorus and potassium. Fat and carbohydrate content are low as well with an absence of sodium, so not only are they good but they are good for you.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mushrooms, though. I hope this helps serve as a starting place for when you’re not sure what mushroom you should use and you never know, this could be a start of a your new passion for mushrooms!

By Chef K. Marie Paulk