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The mushroom is a fungus which comes in a wide range of varieties that belong to two distinct types: cultivated and wild. In myth and folklore mushrooms have always had something of a mystical connection: elves and fairies are often depicted sitting atop them, and they are known to spring up seemingly overnight in 'fairy rings'. On a more practical level, many mushrooms and fungi can be poisonous or hallucinogenic. If foraging in the forest, it's important to know what you're looking for.
Amazingly just one cup of mushrooms has the potential to release at least 15 different vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
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Cultivated fresh mushrooms are available all year. Wild mushrooms are at their peak in autumn although some, such as morels, are found in spring. Dried mushrooms are available all year round.
Choose cultivated mushrooms carefully as they tend to turn limp quickly and loose their flavour. Avoid any that have broken caps, bruised or wrinkled dry patches or that look limp, slimy or sweaty.
Dried wild mushrooms can be easily reconstituted by soaking in warm water. They are excellent added to soups, stews and risottos. As the drying process concentrates their flavour, you only need a few to enhance the flavour of a dish.
(CAUTION: ON NO ACCOUNT PICK OR EAT ANY MUSHROOM GROWING IN THE WILD UNLESS YOU CAN POSITIVELY IDENTIFY IT.)
All mushrooms are best used on the day of purchase, although cultivated ones will keep for up to three days in the refrigerator. Mushrooms will sweat if stored in plastic, so keep them in a paper bag, or wrapped in kitchen paper.
To freeze mushrooms, slice them and either saut© in butter or oil, steam or blanch. Cool to room temperature and pack in rigid containers. Cook from frozen unless stir-frying, when you will need to thaw them first in order to avoid being splashed by hot oil when you add them to the pan.
Opinion is divided over whether to lightly rinse mushrooms or to simply wipe them with a damp cloth, but if theyre picked wild, they should always be cleaned carefully before cooking. Theres no need to peel the stems before steaming, frying or grilling mushrooms, unless theyre particularly thick or discoloured. Small mushrooms can be cooked whole, halved or quartered; larger ones are best sliced, chopped or stuffed whole. Butter, cream, parsley and garlic all add flavour to mushrooms. Use them in, sauces, curries, bakes, omelettes and stews, as well as salads.
Article by Clarissa Hyman