Autumn is the season for mushrooms. With more and more varieties appearing in the shops, here are our top tips and some of our favourite recipes.
When you’re shopping for mushrooms, look out for ‘wild’ selections, which often contain shiitake, chanterelles, oyster and shimeji, and then make up the remaining quantity you need for your recipe with chestnut mushrooms. Choose a pack that looks fresh and dry – if the mushrooms are dark and damp, they will be going bad. In supermarkets they are usually sold sealed in plastic, so you can’t do the sniff test – with loose mushrooms, if they smell off they will taste off too! Always try to eat mushrooms while they are as fresh as possible.
Never wash mushrooms, as they contain 90 per cent water and will act like sponges, soaking up the moisture and becoming soggy. To clean them, just wipe with a pastry brush or paper towel, or you can buy a special mushroom brush. The exception to this rule is when you are using wild mushrooms, which may be very gritty or even downright dirty! These may need a gentle plunge into a bowl of water; a running tap is too violent and may damage them. Always dry the mushrooms with paper towel before cooking.
Store mushrooms in a paper bag in the fridge, never in plastic or in a bowl covered with cling film, as this will make them sweat. Mushrooms can be frozen but only when cooked: simply sauté them in oil or butter and freeze in small quantities. They can then be cooked from frozen or defrosted an hour before you intend to use them. When defrosted, cooked mushrooms become watery and loose in texture, so are best used for liquid dishes such as soups.
Cook mushrooms in rapeseed oil or olive oil - I find the taste complements the mushrooms. Mushrooms also love heat, and should sizzle when they cook to seal in the flavour and evaporate their moisture. They generally release a lot of their moisture during cooking and then draw it back in, so wait for the point when they become dry and begin to crisp on the edges. Add your seasoning at the end of cooking.
Chestnut mushrooms are brown-cap mushrooms, have more flavour than white-cap mushrooms and are often organic.
Chanterelles have a beautiful orange colour and very distinctive taste. They can be cooked whole and are best sautéed. They are also called girolles in France.
Oyster mushrooms have short stalks on one side of the smooth bare oyster-like cap, which can be up to 15cm in diameter. They grow on the trunks of deciduous trees. They have a delicate flavour so are best in light dishes, shredded by hand and quickly stir-fried.
King Oyster mushrooms are from the same family as oyster mushrooms and are sometimes called trumpet mushrooms. They have a dense texture and a sweet mild taste. Slice them lengthwise and panfry, grill or bake.
Porcini or Ceps are found wild in the woods in autumn. To cook fresh, slice thickly and fry or char-grill, then drizzle with the best olive oil. You can also buy them dried, with a more concentrated flavour.
Shiitake are tough, dark brown mushrooms with a ‘meaty’ flavour. They grow on tree logs and are available to buy fresh and dried. Shiitake are well suited to Asian dishes, but will also add taste to stews, risottos and soups.
Shimeji are popular Japanese mushrooms and are known as white or brown beech mushrooms, as in the wild they grow on fallen beech trees. They have a nutty flavour and chewy texture.
Dried mushrooms are an essential storecupboard ingredient. Use them to add flavour to stocks and soups by just adding a few, whole, or rehydrate them in hot water and then chop them into risottos, pasta dishes or stews. I like dried porcini and shiitake as they are so full of flavour that you don’t need to use many to add a wonderful mushroom aroma to your dishes. After rehydrating, you can use the soaking liquid as a stock, just strain off any grit and dirt at the bottom of the soaking bowl first.
Photos by Rob Wicks of Eat Pictures
Here are a few of our favourite mushroom recipes ~
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