Guide to Exotic and Delicious Mushrooms

Guide to Exotic and Delicious Mushrooms

(12 different types of mushrooms)

While some mushrooms have mysterious-sounding names, many are named for what they look like, such as hen-of-the-woods, pom porn, oyster, and black trumpet. Here's a guide to the more exotic varieties that are now more available.

BeechBeech (Hypsyzygus tessulatus): Also called clam shell or hon-shimeji. This mushroom variety has the most sensational and sensual texture imaginable. Beech mushrooms are bouncy, resilient, almost crunchy, and very juicy. With a mild mushroom flavor and nutty undertone, beech mushrooms largely take on other flavors during cooking. A quick saute in olive oil or butter or a quick grilling (brushed lightly with oil) shows them off best. They also stand up well in soups, stews, stir-fries, and salads. The flavor of beech mushrooms can be enhanced with a smidgen of minced garlic, a pinch of fresh herbs, and a splash of wine or sherry. And they are terrific alongside mashed potatoes, soft polenta, and other foods with a creamy consistency.

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius): Also called girolle or Pfifferling. While many "wild" mushrooms areChanterelle now cultivated, chanterelles defy cultivation. They will be expensive when you come across them because they are hand-picked by experts in the wild. Chanterelles are easily recognized by their delicate orange or apricot color and trumpet shape. Black trumpets (Craterellus fallax) are a similar, related variety. The texture of chanterelles should be firm yet spongy and the flavor mild and just a bit woodsy. Some have a subtle apricot nuance. They are especially delicious with cream sauces, chicken, and pasta.

CreminiCremini (Agaricus bisporus): Also called crimini or brown mushrooms. Some years ago, the brown color of these wonderful mushrooms was bred out of the variety, resulting in the very common white button mushrooms. It was only after cooks sought out brown mushrooms with more flavor that cremini became popular again. Cremini mushrooms have a flavor similar to white mushrooms, except deeper, a bit bolder and more mushroomy. It's an earthy yet sophisticated flavor that greatly enhances the flavors of other foods. Cremini can be sliced or chopped and sauteed, then used in stuffings and soups. They are also perfect for stuffed mushroom caps.

Enoki (Flammulina velutipes, formerly Collybia velutipes): Also called enokitake, enokidake, andEnoki golden needle mushrooms. These waifs of the mushroom world are easily identified by their long, skinny stems and tiny caps, which are the size of pencil erasers. They grow in clusters and are sold in vacuum-packed pouches to extend their shelf life. Trim off about 1" from the stems at the bottom, where the fused stems begin to separate. The taste of these mushrooms is fairly bland, but the texture of the caps is firm and bouncy. Because they are so exotically beautiful, enoki are often added to salads and open-faced sandwiches, dropped into a stir-fry or hot soup at the last moment, or used as a garnish. They are best when eaten raw or just slightly cooked.

Hen of the WoodsHen-of-the-Woods (Grifola frondosa): Also called maitake, sheep's head, and dancing butterfly mushrooms. When you come across hen-of-the-woods, you will see a cluster of ruffled-looking caps and stems attached at a base. These clumps can be enormous, sometimes growing several feet wide. Both the stems and caps can be eaten, but many people prefer the stem over the cap because the stem has a firmer texture. The whole clump is generally firm in texture compared with other mushrooms, yet tender and a bit crumbly, with a nutty, woodsy flavor and a hint of garlic. Pull apart the cluster to make smaller portions. Hen-of-the-woods stands up well to simmering and braising. Great with chicken or veal in cream sauce or with beef stroganoff.

Morel (Morchella angusticeps or Morchella elata): Elegant and expensive are words that come to mindMorel at the mention of morels. Perhaps the most easily recognized mushroom, morels have an unusual shape: a rounded, hollow elongated cone with a honeycomb-like, spongy cap and a hollow stem. They have a rich flavor that suggests nuts or spice. Morels take especially well to creamy sauces, flavoring and soaking up the sauce in a delicious way. Wonderful with elegant seafoods, poultry, and veal, morels also make a great addition to vegetable dishes. Dried morels are quite good and some of them are lightly smoked during the drying process, boosting their flavor even more.

OysterOyster (Pleurotus): Also called pleurotte. A rainbow of color will greet you in the oyster mushroom section of food markets: They grow in hues ranging from silver, cream, white, and buff, to golden, yellow, pale blue, lavender, pink, gray, and black. Cream is the most common color, and don't worry about trying every color variety. Most of the color fades during cooking, and the flavors of each variety are similar. Oyster mushrooms have a delicate earthy flavor, not bold at all, and will taste best when cooked simply and quickly. A very short saute in butter or olive oil until just wilted and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper are all that is needed. They can also be quickly grilled or broiled, then dressed with a vinaigrette. Or try them scattered over seafood. Delicate oyster mushrooms begin to decay quickly, so buy them fresh and dry, and use them as soon as you can.

Porcini (Boletus edulis): Also called Bolete, King Bolete, porcino, cepe, or Steinpilze. Large and precious,Porcini perhaps the greatest of all mushrooms, porcini defy cultivation. Great celebrations follow porcini seasons throughout Europe. The caps can grow up to a foot across! The stems can be quite bulbous but are delicious and should not be discarded. Although some wild porcini come to market from the West Coast, most are imported. They are very expensive, both fresh and dried. But the reward is a deep, meaty, woodsy flavor and tender, beefy texture. The caps, or even whole fresh porcini cut into thick slices, are ideal for grilling. Just brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Simple is best when it comes to cooking these treasures of the forest. Dried porcini are also sensational. They have such a deep, robust taste that 1/2 ounce or less is enough to flavor an entire pot of pasta sauce.

PortobelloPortobello (Agaricus bisporus): Also called portabella. When cremini mushrooms are left to grow larger, they turn into portobellos. Cultivation of portobellos has flourished in recent years and their price is coming down as supply increases. In a way, they are an inexpensive substitute for porcini mushrooms. They have a deep, meaty flavor and texture. The stems are tough and woody, often removed and added to soups and stock for flavor, but you can also slice and saute them. The large caps are the real draw in portobellos. They are wonderful for grilling or broiling whole. They can also become "burgers" or a mushroom "pizza" crust when topped with tomato and cheese, then baked. When thinly sliced, the caps make a pretty arrangement over traditional pizza. If using in light sauces, scrape out the dark gills from the undersides of the caps to avoid darkening the sauce.

Shiitake (Lentinus edodes): Also called black mushrooms, Chinese black mushrooms, black forestShiitake mushrooms, and golden oak mushrooms. Here we have one of the most successfully cultivated mushrooms. The dark, almost pointy caps range from just 1" to a very large 8" in diameter. The color of the caps is usually dark brown, almost black, but sometimes you will find them with a variegated or crackled beige appearance. The wonderful woodsy aroma and flavor of shiitake intensifies when the mushroom is dried. Fresh shiitake should be firm and dry. The stems are always tough and should be re-moved before using. Shiitake can be grilled or broiled and they can star in simple stir-fries. Incidentally, shiitake mushrooms were used as models for the dancing and singing mushrooms in the movie Fantasia.

TrufflesTruffles (Tuber spp.): Looks aren't everything. At first sight, a truffle looks like a lumpy, warty, rough, and irregularly shaped mass. But the flavor is smooth as velvet. Truffles are highly prized fungi that grow underground, most abundantly beneath certain oak and hickory trees in France and Italy. They are extremely expensive because it takes keen pigs and dogs to sniff out their spontaneous subterranean locations in the fall and winter. The average truffle is the size of a walnut, but they can grow up to 6" across. Many varieties exist, but black and white are the most important. Black truffles (nicknamed black diamonds) come from the Perigord region of France. The color is actually a dark brown or grayish purple-black. They have an incredibly earthy aroma and rich, subtle flavor with nutty under-tones. Slight cooking brings out the best flavor. White truffles are more fragrant and pungent, tan or light brown in color, and grow abundantly in the Piedmont region of Italy. Their musky, earthy aroma and flavor includes nuances of garlic and aged cheese, with an occasional peppery bite. White truffles are almost always added raw to Italian dishes, frequently shaved into wafers over pasta, risotto, and cheese sauces. When purchasing truffles, go by aroma. To store them, bury the truffles in rice grains and refrigerate up to 10 days. Use the truffle-flavored rice too. For an economical way to enjoy the flavor of truffles, buy truffle oil, store it in the refrigerator, and use within 1 year. Truffle oil is wonderful drizzled over bread, salads, pasta, risotto, polenta, seafood, or vegetables. Canned truffles are also available, but they have much less flavor than fresh and shrink to half their size, creating a denser consistency and darker color.

Wood Ear (Auricularia polytricha, A. auricula): Also called tree ears and cloud ears. These slippery,Wood Ear black-brown, wafer-thin, petal-like mushrooms were once available only dried (they easily reconstitute and look similar to the fresh variety, which is becoming more available). They have very little flavor and are used mostly for their slightly crunchy texture. You can easily recognize wood ears in Chinese dishes such as hot and sour soup and moo shu pork. Fresh wood ears need only a brief rinsing and blanching. Dried wood ears will keep well for several years. When buying the dried version, choose the tiniest ones that you can find; they blow up to 4 to 5 times their size after soaking, and the huge ones will be very chewy.

Warning : Only mushroom experts should pick or use fresh mushrooms in the wild. Identifying mushrooms in the wild can be very tricky, and some varieties are poisonous and is fatal.

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