The Multi-Faceted Mushroom

For a range of flavors, try different varieties of fresh mushrooms.

have hunted for wild mushrooms in the rolling hills of Napa, California, with a mycologist (professional mushroom forager), and in my own back yard with a well-known chef. Looking for the elusive fungi is almost a meditative experience that should always be done with experts, not amateurs.

In reality, most of us “hunt” for commercially grown cultivated varieties of mushrooms in our local grocery stores. While this may not be as exciting an adventure as traipsing through the woods, there is a pretty wide selection for every mushroom lover. Some of my favorites include delicate oyster mushrooms that are grayish-white with pretty fluted caps. They are best sautéed lightly in butter and served with a sprinkling of coarse salt and pepper. Shitake mushrooms are tan to dark brown with a broad umbrella cap. They are great marinated and used in stir-fries. Enokis are tender, white mushrooms with long stems and small caps. They have a sweet, mild taste. Serve them in salads or soups, or lightly stir-fried. The royal trumpet is so called because of its light brown shaped cap, and is delicious grilled or stir-fried. Cremini are the brown cousins of the common button mushroom most of us are familiar with. Cremini are more intense in flavor and can be used in many ways—from sautéing to thinly sliced and used raw in salads. The portobello, sporting a large brown cap, is related to cremini. Portobello are often referred to as “poor man’s steak” because of their meaty texture. They are fabulous on the grill. And stuffed, too!

There are hundreds of other types of cultivated fungi, and the good news is that mushrooms are tasty and versatile, and also provide selenium, an essential mineral beneficial for producing antioxidants. Mushrooms are a great source of potassium, too. And did you know that they are the only source of vitamin D in the produce aisle and one of the few non-fortified food sources? Eat all you want since mushrooms are also low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and glutenfree.

Here are some things to remember about buying and storing mushrooms. Buy them loose if you can; these are fresher mushrooms. If packaged in plastic, take the mushrooms out and place them in a paper bag. Mushrooms need to breathe and plastic turns them mushy. They will keep refrigerated for several days. Never soak mushrooms in water; instead wipe them with a damp cloth or use a mushroom brush to dust away any dirt. Water-logged mushrooms will not brown very well.

The best advice I can give about cooking mushrooms is to leave them alone. Do not be in a hurry to stir them too frequently. Let mushrooms render their liquid and start to brown before stirring. Your patience will be rewarded with perfectly cooked mushrooms.

Try these delectable mushroom-focused recipes:

Mushroom and Celery Salad

Stuffed Portobello Mushroom “Quiche”

Velvety Mushroom Soup

Fettucine with Mushroom Sauce

Marinated Fresh Mushrooms

Spicy Lettuce Wrap

The Freshest Mushrooms

If you’re looking for mushrooms other than the white buttons or portobellos in the supermarket, you’re in luck. In 2012, three devoted foragers—Dennis Chesley, Keith Garrett and Eric Milligan—grew their mycological passion into the New Hampshire Mushroom Company, which is based in Tamworth.

“I started foraging with my father when I was twelve years old,” Chesley says, “and I’m sixty-six now.”

Chesley and his business partners know more than 160 species of wild mushrooms, thanks to lots of self-study and advanced training. Among the mushrooms that only grow in the wild are porcini, chanterelles, black trumpets and matsutake. “These all have complex relationships with trees, so we have to rely on Mother Nature for them,” Chesley says. His favorite mushroom-hunting grounds are along the north shore of Lake Winnipesaukee and in the Ossipee Mountain range.

Mushrooms that can be cultivated—and ones that New Hampshire Mushroom Company grows—include blue, gray and yellow oysters; elms; chestnuts; and bear’s heads.

“Since these species grow on wood, we grow them in sawdust that’s been amended with nutrients,” Chesley says. “Chefs love these mushrooms, as each has a distinct flavor.”

You can find the company’s mushrooms at several hundred restaurants throughout New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, as well as for sale at the Concord Cooperative Market in Concord, E.M. Heath Supermarket in Center Harbor, The Local Grocer in Conway, Philbrick’s Fresh Market in Portsmouth and Sunflower Natural Foods in Laconia. Farmers’ markets in Concord and Tamworth are other venues, along with winter farmers’ markets in Rollinsford, Exeter and Tilton.

But the best way to purchase the freshest mushrooms is to take one of the company’s tours, which are offered every Sunday at noon. “We love talking about mushrooms and have lots for sale every Sunday,” Chesley says.

In addition to those they cultivate, Chesley says select wild-foraged mushroom species are offered when available. These include pheasantback, stropharia, black trumpets, chanterelles, chicken of the woods, hen of the woods and matsutakes.

To learn more about mushroom foraging, sign up for a class at the company on Sunday, September 17, or Sunday, October 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The fee is $40, and includes mushroom appetizers and a farm tour. Just remember to bring your hiking shoes, a basket and a bag lunch.

—Andi Axman

Categories: Food & Recipes