I came to mushrooms as an adult. The only mushrooms served during my childhood were canned or in TV dinners, and as you might imagine, those weren’t worth eating. Once I realized what raw and freshly cooked mushrooms tasted like, I was hooked – and I’m not alone in my fondness for them. Cooked and raw, white button, portabella and more unusual varieties, fresh mushrooms are becoming more popular in the US and elsewhere. Mushrooms are healthy too – a good source of protein, fiber and other nutrients.
My favorite mushroom recipes are stuffed, in soup, salad, and in stir-fries. But I also put them in Italian-style tomato (red) sauce, quick chicken dinners and egg dishes such as strata too. The most common mushrooms are the small white caps known as buttons. I prefer the more flavorful (some call them “musky”) large portabellas or their smaller versions, the crimini.
Here is a great visual guide to the most common varieties of mushrooms found in U.S. grocery stores: portabella, oyster, maitake or hen of the woods, shiitake, crimini, white button, chanterelle, and porcini. Recently, I cooked with another type, enoki, which are popular in Asia; I used them in homemade hot and sour soup.
How to Buy, Store, and Clean Fresh Mushrooms
- Buy – Fresh mushrooms should be dry (but not dried out) and firm. The color depends on type; if the mushroom type is light-colored, then look for ones that have not darkened with age. White button mushrooms, portabellas, and crimini mushrooms should have smooth caps. I prefer whole mushrooms to pre-sliced, figuring that the less the mushroom is exposed to air, the fresher it will be when I want to use it. Besides, slicing or chopping just takes a few minutes and doing it myself, I get the size and shape I want. I comparison shopped and did not find a price differential between whole and sliced.
- Store – If you buy fresh mushrooms in a plastic-wrapped container, you can store them in that packaging or move them to a loosely closed paper bag. Either way, they should last from a few days to about a week in the refrigerator. Do not keep fresh mushrooms refrigerated in a tightly closed plastic bag or sealed container, as that would cause condensation and that dampness leads to spoilage. Shitake smell vaguely of ammonia if they are beginning to spoil.
- Clean – Mushrooms are mostly water (from 80-90+ percent depending on type), so you don’t want to waterlog them by submerging them during cleaning. Many sources recommend using only a damp vegetable brush, but I clean mushrooms by gently holding them for a moment under lightly running water while stroking them with my hand to dislodge any bits of dirt. If any dirt remains, I dab the spot with a clean paper towel. I cut off the tip of the stems regardless of how I’m using the mushrooms. Unless I am immediately submerging them in soup, I dry fresh mushrooms with a clean paper towel.
- Mushrooms are not really vegetables because they do not have leaves, roots, or seeds and do not require light for growth.
- Mushrooms are among the 3 most popular vegetables in both the US and Great Britain. In the US – the 3 are tomatoes, broccoli and mushrooms, while in Great Britain, they are potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms.
- China is the world’s largest producer of mushrooms, followed by the U.S. Among the states, Pennsylvania leads, followed by California and Florida.
- White button mushrooms were originally light brown in color, until a natural mutation occurred in the mid-1920’s in Pennsylvania and farmers took advantage of that color variation to breed the white mushrooms. Ironically, the increasingly popular portabella and crimini mushrooms are light brown cousins of the white button mushroom.
What’s your favorite way to serve mushrooms? Which type do you like best?