Chanterelle, Oyster, Portobello, all these and more make up the magical world of mushrooms. More and more varieties are making their claim in the vegetable isle, and you can learn to incorporate them into your own cuisine, exploring the amazing world of fungi in your food.
Dark damp growing conditions, strange shapes and reproduction by spore don’t exactly scream delicious eats, but if you’re a mushroom lover, then these ominous words will probably bring on a rush of excitement. Fungi, the wild-growing underbelly of the forest, are a delicious addition to our tables and for thousands of years have been a medicinal and nutritional staple.
Crimini, Shitake, and Button all ring bells for grocery store goers, but savvy cooks are now picking up on the art of foraged and rarer mushroom varietals too, like King Oyster and Chanterelle.
Before we begin, please note that picking mushrooms in the wild is a dangerous sport with serious and sometimes fatal consequences if done improperly. The point of the blog is to educate you on how and where edible mushrooms come from, but wild foraging should only be done with an expert (and we’re not talking Google images). Seriously, people have died by misidentifying wild mushrooms, so please don’t.
There is a lot to be loved about mushrooms despite their darker side. Though poisonous mushrooms do exist on almost every continent, there are also plenty of healthy and nutritionally robust mushroom varieties that are a culinarian’s delight. Specific species thrive in certain temperature and climate zones, some like pine trees, some like to grow near oak, and most only grow at certain times of year.
Hunting or growing mushrooms intentionally requires knowledge of their fussy and eccentric growing tastes. In the Pacific Northwest, its all about the hunt for Chanterelle mushrooms, which emerges after the first rains and will send hunters roaming the woods looking for dappled light and lots of fallen leaves.
Orange, fruity in taste and just plain ugly, these prized mushrooms go for a lot at the market and in local restaurants (anywhere from $10-$25/pound).
If you head out with an experienced Chanterelle hunter, they will warn you to watch out for “False Chanterelles” which look deceptively similar and are toxic. Never fear, if you’re finding them at the store, they’ve been checked and crosschecked for safety – and they’re totally worth it. Sautee them in butter, season with salt and serve with rice. Perfection.
One of the most expensive foods in the world just happens to also be a mushroom. The Black Truffle, which can price out at around $1200.00 per pound, is found in the forests of France, Spain and Italy. This drier mushroom is not eaten like other fleshier fungi (for example, Portobello), but is instead used to flavor rich Mediterranean cuisines. Anyone who has smelled truffle oil will know that intoxicating aroma so unique to this amazing fruit.
Mushrooms, as a rule are 80-90% water. So, the best way to cook them is with dry heat (or in fats, like butter or oil), to help them release their liquid. If you boil mushrooms they will retain water and become rubbery and strange on mouth feel. Additionally, mushrooms don’t need too long to cook through, so if you plan to add them to a soup, consider sautéing first and then add towards the end of the cooking.
If your only mushroom experience has been with a handy can of Cream of Mushroom soup, it might be time to branch out and explore this wild and edible fruiting fungus in one of its more natural forms.