Early fall is the perfect time to walk away from the basic button mushrooms and experiment with the wildest varieties. We are talking about Enokis, Chanterelles and all other fungi that are suitable for cozy fall dinners.
Mushrooms are a strange part of the omnivore diet. They are not vegetables or fruit, but rather a fungus. And although that word often causes nasty pictures of faint fungi and dirty pond debris, mushrooms have fallen for us. Their umami taste and spongy texture are essential components in many dishes.
Most Americans adhere to mushrooms with buttons or crimini's. But as we go into the fall, other species of wild mushrooms are more common at farmers' markets and health food stores throughout the country. Now let's be clear, these "wild" mushrooms are either grown on farms or found by experienced mushroom makers.
We do not recommend that you forage your own mushrooms under any circumstances. Stay with your local Whole Foods or a trusted supplier of these wild fungi. Remember, it is a thin line between finding a morel and satisfying your mortality.
Common species of wild mushrooms and where to buy them
Most of us know what to do with a mushroom or even a portobello. But there are many other varieties that are in strange shapes and sizes. Here we have some of the most common edible forest fungi and a list of where you can probably find them in stores.
Chanterelles: These are native to the Pacific Northwest, as well as parts of the UK. They are yellow and orange in color with a fruity scent and a slight peppery taste. You will probably find them in the US from September to early December, especially in Washington, Oregon and California.
Oyster mushrooms: These grow in most subtropical rain forests in the world, including many regions of the US. They can also be converted commercially and are therefore often easier to find in supermarkets. Although the reason why is unclear, oyster mushrooms do not grow in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. So finding them on the west coast can be difficult.
Shiitake Mushrooms: This earthly mushroom is originally from Japan, but is grown commercially throughout the world. They can be a challenge to find fresh in stores, but dried varieties are usually available throughout the year in regular supermarkets.
Enoki Mushrooms: These are another commercially grown wild variety that is gaining popularity in the United States, but can still be difficult to find. Watch out for them in the markets of farmers and in cooperative crates from December to March.
Beech Mushrooms: These are grown for and commercially grown in North America. They are available all year round, but their presence in stores is still limited. In Oregon, a close cousin mushroom cousin is grown and sold as the highly-regarded and popular & # 39; Fried Chicken Mushroom & # 39 ;. You can find those and other beech mushrooms from autumn to early spring.
Wild cleaning and preparation Mushrooms
When it comes to cleaning and preparing wild mushrooms, the variety doesn't really matter. You want to use a mushroom brush or a paper towel to remove loose dirt. If the mushrooms still have bits of packed soil that the towel can hardly remove, you can turn them in a bowl of lukewarm water. However, remove them quickly; mushrooms left under water can become watery.
From there, if the breed you use has large gills, you probably want to remove them. This is for aesthetic and texture reasons, and not for taste or safety reasons. Mushroom gills tend to become slimy when cooked, and they are not difficult to remove. However, they are difficult to clean, which is another reason to lose them.
You also want to remove the lower part of the mushroom stem. This is known as the foot of the mushroom, and it is where lumps of dirt tend to hang. If you have bought your mushrooms in a store, it is probably already removed, but if you are fresh from a farmer's market, you may have to do it yourself. In some recipes, the entire mushroom stem must also be removed. As with the gills, this is more a matter of texture than a matter of safety or taste.
Cooking with fresh wild mushrooms
Regardless of the variety, there are a few important points to keep in mind when cooking mushrooms. To start with, mushrooms are mainly water. That's why they shrink so much when they are cooked. Conventional cooking wisdom says that the amount of moisture in mushrooms can be problematic. If you displace the pan, the resulting release of steam blocks the ability of the mushrooms to turn brown. So most recipes will instruct you to use a large pan and ensure that your mushrooms are dry.
Of course, rules have been made to be broken. If you are interested in trying a less than obvious, wet method for cooking mushrooms, the International Culinary Center in New York has published an article explaining how and why you should do that.
Whether you use a wet or dry method, there is one thing that every cook agrees with. Mushrooms can withstand prolonged cooking without becoming mushy. This means that a low and slow preparation or a long branding are nice cooking methods for every mushroom.
Cooking with dried wild mushrooms
Sometimes finding fresh mushrooms in a specific variety is difficult, but their dried counterparts are often available. If you use dried mushrooms, you must first reconstitute them in warm water. Use a large container because mushrooms are about four times as large as dried, and make sure the water covers them completely. Soak the dried mushrooms for 15-20 minutes before using them in your recipe.
For an extra taste boost, try using warm wine or broth instead of the water. And make sure you keep the soaking liquid. It gives your soups, stews, broths and sauces a giant shot full of umami.
In short, do not be afraid of these strange and varied fungi. Wild mushrooms add flavor and variety to otherwise conventional dishes. Try them in a homemade cream mushroom soup and take your oven dishes to a higher level. Try them in risotto and wow your entire family. Or just bake them to perfection and throw them on top of a juicy hamburger for a weeknight treat. The diversity in color, taste and texture in wild mushrooms will certainly make your favorite fall dinners much better.