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Recipes: Seasonal Food Spotlight Mushrooms 11-05-08
Although growing media for each of the domestic mushrooms have been formulated with success, this hasn’t been true for the wild varieties. Converting most wild mushrooms to domestic cultivation has proved to be exceptionally challenging. Highly prized wild delicacies such as porcini, chanterelles, morels, hedgehogs, and truffles live in a symbiotic relationship with the root system of living trees, and growers have yet been unable to reproduce this environment artificially.
Mushrooms are predominantly water, which is where most of their distinctive flavor resides. Because their outer skin is very thin, mushrooms dry out quickly. If stored properly and left whole, most mushrooms will remain fresh for up to a week. Store mushrooms unwashed in a paper bag with a few holes poked in it for ventilation, or simply spread them in a single layer and cover with a barely damp paper towel. Refrigerate and check periodically to ensure that no moisture collects on the mushrooms, as this will lead to spotting and rot.
Preparing mushrooms is straightforward, no matter the variety. To clean mushrooms, wipe them with damp paper towels, or brush them lightly with a small wet brush (a toothbrush works well). Avoid submerging them in water (except morels), because they absorb water like a sponge and become mushy. If your mushrooms are very dirty, rinse them quickly under cold running water and dry thoroughly before use. The trick to concentrating mushroom flavor is to cook them without steaming, so it’s important to start with dry mushrooms.
Trim away the hardened base of the stems and discard. Shiitake stems are woody and should be removed entirely. Save the stems and trimmings for use in stocks or soups (they can be frozen). White and brown Agaricus bisporus mushrooms can be eaten raw or cooked. White mushrooms are prone to discoloration when cut, so leave them whole until just before cooking. If you’re using portobellos (also variously called portobellas, portabellos, or portabellas), remove the dark gills on the underside of the cap with a spoon, as the gills will discolor the dish. Although enoki and oyster mushrooms can be eaten raw, their flavor is best when briefly sautéed. Wild mushrooms need to be completely cooked before eating.
If you’re using dried mushrooms, reconstitute them by soaking in hot water until pliable. The soaking liquid will be infused with flavor, so be sure to add it to your recipe or freeze it for later use — but discard any sediment or residue left at the bottom of the bowl.
The best way to cook mushrooms is to start with a very hot pan. Once the pan is hot, add an oil that can withstand high temperatures (or a combination of oil and butter), then add the mushrooms. Cook over high or medium-high heat without stirring for the first 3 or 4 minutes; this allows them to brown and begin to get crusty. Once they start to give off moisture, sprinkle with a bit of salt. Then flip the mushrooms and cook until they have caramelized slightly. Add a knob of butter, a few drops of Cognac or sherry vinegar, fresh herbs, garlic, or shallots in the final minutes. Heavenly!