Want to Cook Mushrooms Like a Pro? Start with the Basics.

How many types of edible mushrooms are there?

According to www.mushroomthejournal.com, there are around 10,000 described species known in North America alone, but it is likely that there are many undiscovered species. Those that are known probably only represent about 1/3 to 1/5 of what is really out there.

To quote:

Roughly speaking, the mushrooms you find will be:

50% inedible
By this I mean, either too tough to chew, like some woody shelf mushrooms, or just plain indigestible, like oak or maple leaves, for example.

25% ” edible, but not incredible”
There are a lot of mushrooms out there that are edible, but tasteless.

20% will make you sick
In this category I put things that will irritate your digestive tract. In mild cases, this means that you will throw up after eating the mushrooms. In more severe cases, it means that your entire digestive tract becomes extremely upset and expels whatever is inside it, in whatever direction is quickest. In very severe cases, your digestive tract continues trying to expel whatever is in it for a few days.

4% will be tasty to excellent
In other words, these are the mushrooms that there’s actually a reason to eat.

1% can kill you
Need I say more?

In other words: lots of tasty mushrooms out there, but don’t eat the ones you pick unless you really know what you are doing.  The odds of finding something really tasty are small, the odds of getting very sick are high, and the risk of dying is significant.

Fortunately, many of the tastier variety are cultivated commercially and sold fresh or dried.  Fresh mushrooms should always be bought locally and seasonally.  Here are a few tips for dealing with them:

  • When you get them home, fresh mushrooms should never be stored in plastic, as they will build condensation causing the mushrooms to shrink, though many agree that you can keep them in the container in which they were purchased until opened.
  • Once they get slimy or spotted you should throw them away.
  • Once the package is opened, you should place any remaining mushrooms in a paper bag where they can remain fresh for about 1-3 days.
  • Be sure to clean your mushrooms before cooking.  You can wash them but you should never soak them. Use a damp cloth to wipe the mushroom and remove any visible dirt and debris
  • Remember that since mushrooms contain a great deal of water, they will shrink considerably while cooking. Be sure to take that into account when determining how many mushrooms to use.
  • They also soak up the flavor of the fats they are cooked in so be sure to use high quality oils and butters.

As for dried mushrooms, they can safely be purchased and enjoyed all year round.  And since they are safe to ship, we carry quite a few at Shami’s Gourmet.  Here are some basic tips for dried mushrooms:

  • Dried mushrooms should be kept in an air-tight container and can be stored in the freezer where they will stay safe for use for up to a year.
  • Follow the instructions on the package for proper preparation for re-hydration.
  • Be sure to save the liquid as a great addition for soups, sauces and gravies.
  • Since dried mushrooms flavors are concentrated, you can use them as a spice for their flavor rather than as a main ingredient.
  •  1 dry ounce of mushrooms can produce up to 7-10 ounces when reconstituted.  Consider this when pricing mushrooms.

On Mushroom Mondays, we will feature mushroom recipes, information about the various types of mushrooms, and anything else we can think of that is mushroom related.

In the mean time, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Consider dried Morels when making a cream sauce or preparing a veal or poultry dish.
  • Consider using Black Trumpets to accompany grilled steak. They have a smoky, rich flavor and a pleasant, fruity aroma.
  • Dried Matsutaki mushrooms are revered in Asian culture and are used in a variety of Asian recipes. Try adding them to your favorite Asian recipe.

And a few recipes:

See you tomorrow, for Truffle Tuesday!


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