Foraged and eaten for more than 13,000 years, mushrooms—which are fungi, not plants—are a cherished ingredient in many different cultures. Most varieties can be found year-round, but are particularly abundant in the fall. The white button mushroom is perhaps most familiar to the American palate, but there are many other types to be explored. Cremini and portobello mushrooms—the same variety as the white button, but allowed to grow longer—hold up well when cooked, infusing classic French stews like boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin with a wonderful earthiness. The shiitake, native to East Asia, adds a distinctive umami flavor to stir-fries and soups. Dense, meaty chanterelles have an appealing nutty flavor when sautéed with a little butter. Oyster and enoki mushrooms, with their delicate sweetness, are an inspired substitute for the white button in a spinach and bacon salad, and frilly hen of the wood dresses up a vegetarian lasagne. No matter the variety, we love the earthy, deep flavor they add to dishes of all kinds.
HOW TO BUY
All varieties should be firm and dry to the touch, with a pleasant earthy odor and caps that are slightly open. Check the gills for signs of moisture, which can affect the taste, and avoid mushrooms that have slimy spots or wrinkles.
HOW TO STORE
Store mushrooms loosely in a paper bag, preferably in layers between damp paper towels, and refrigerate. If you purchase your mushrooms prepackaged, remove them from the packaging and store the same way.
HOW TO PREPARE
Clean mushrooms by gently brushing off dirt with a damp paper towel or a soft brush. For varieties like chanterelles, which can collect dirt in their many ridges, dunk them in water mixed with a little vinegar and pat dry immediately. Salt mushrooms near the end of cooking rather than at the beginning, since salting too early can toughen them.