A Guide to Mushrooms

There's more to the mushroom family than those plain button ones. Read on to get to know the more flavorful fungi.

By Robert Sietsema
MushroomWendell Webber

Cremini

Appearance and taste: Creminis have a distinctly earthy taste, with a delicate texture and pale brown color. They cost a little more than button mushrooms, but they're more flavorful.
 Best uses: Will brown well when sauteed, due to their low moisture content. Saute in butter and herbs before tossing into soups for an extra boost.
 Good to know: Cremini are baby portobellos. The stems can be diced and sauteed, then used as a filling for omelets.

 

Oyster

Appearance and taste: Delicate, briny flavor and lacelike texture. Most oyster mushrooms are pale ivory, but they can also be yellow, pink, blue, or lavender.
 Best uses: Saute briefly in olive oil or butter. They are extremely tender and moist when cooked, but they also taste spectacular raw in salads.
 Good to know: Deteriorate quickly: must be used immediately.

 

Portobello

Appearance and taste: Portobellos are big in size and flavor―rich and meaty.
 Best uses: Marinate in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then saute or charcoal-grill. The huge caps are popular as hamburger substitutes.
 Good to know: To avoid blackening a sauce, scrape out the gills before cooking.

 

Enoki

Appearance and taste: These mushrooms have an almost crunchy texture. Their arresting shape (long and fragile-looking) produces a showy garnish.
 Best uses: In stir-fries, to which they should be added at the last minute. Use raw in sandwiches and salads.
 Good to know: Trim stems 1/2 to 1 inch from the bottom before using the rest of the mushroom. Unlike all other mushrooms, these may be rinsed in a colander and dried in a salad spinner.

 

Shittake

Appearance and taste: They taste smoky and full-bodied, whether fresh or dried. Caps range from medium brown to almost black.
 Best uses: In stir-fries; the flavor is strong enough to hold its own with sauteed ginger and garlic.
 Good to know: Nearly impossible to overcook. The stems are too tough to eat, but you can use them to flavor stocks and sauces before discarding them.

 

Porcino

Appearance and taste: Porcini, or cepes, have a woodsy flavor. They're particularly valued in Italian and French cooking and have medium brown, rounded tops.
 Best uses: In pasta sauces, lasagna, and risotto. Or skewer them, brush with olive oil, and grill.
 Good to know: Available fresh mainly in late summer and fall, but often found dried in gourmet and Italian markets. A small quantity will add good flavor to a dish of sauteed mushrooms.

 

Morel

Appearance and taste: The tall caps with maze-like crevices running through them may look like alien life forms, but morels have a rich nutty flavor and a spongy structure that absorbs sauces.
 Best uses: In omelets, added to beef gravy, or sauteed in butter and heaped on steaks. They're harder to find and more expensive than most mushrooms, so they're best for impressing guests or the boss.
 Good to know: Clean morels carefully―they grow in the wild and often house tiny bugs. They should be shaken gently after brushing to dislodge any lingering dirt.

 

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