Mushrooms have just enough personality to be interesting but, often, not enough to overpower a dish. Making them an effective component of vegetarian menu. For many vegetarians, mushrooms can be served raw or cooked.
Like tofu, mushrooms will take on the characteristics of the ingredients around them. They have a texture soft enough for small children and hospital patients alike to enjoy, while offering an interesting texture for those with no restrictions.
Considered by many a healthy alternative to meat, mushrooms are low in cholesterol, fat, and sodium. Cultivated for more than 300 years, and revered as a prized commodity by the ancient Romans, mushrooms have often been cast aside from the vegetable world due to their lack of plant qualities – no leaves, roots, flowers or even chlorophyll. This mystifying natural product belongs to the fungi family and reproduces through single-cell spores while feeding off organic material by attaching itself to decaying objects. Mushrooms grow wild on tree barks and natural fertilizer, and are also cultivated on synthetic fertilizer or inside caves.
Curiously appealing to the eye, mushrooms have come to be mythological and folkloric icons. The ancient Romans believed that mushrooms appeared magically during storms when Jupiter stuck the Earth with lightning bolts. Because many species are hallucinogenic, inedible or poisonous, mushrooms have been cursed as lethal throughout history. After the decline of the Roman Empire (where they were part of the soldier’s diet, believed to provide people with strength), mushrooms were associated with witchcraft, magic and the supernatural. Their rich culinary, nutritional and medicinal value was often overlooked.
Mushrooms are available in a wide spectrum of flavors, shapes, colors and textures. Some have smooth caps and stems while others are wrinkled with an amorphous or sponge like silhouette. From cultivated to wild mushrooms, generally preferred by connoisseurs, the mushroom’s nutritional value is priceless. They are rich in minerals, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin E, iron and all the supply of vitamin B12 you need for an entire day. All these nutrients plus a high concentration of protein are contained in a serving of only a few calories.
Around 200 varieties of mushrooms are edible but only about 20 are truly palatable and deemed gourmet. When buying fresh mushrooms, choose firm and bruise-free specimens. Avoid those that appear dry or whose stems or caps are split, or simply trim off any dry or hard parts before cooking. To avoid drying or wrinkling during storage, refrigerate mushrooms inside a paper bag for up to 3 days. To prevent mushrooms from losing their color and becoming slimy, don’t clean them until you’re ready to serve or cook them. Contrary to what is usually advised, they can be cleaned just by rinsing under running water. Soaking should be avoided, but mushrooms themselves contain enough water that a quick wash will not saturate them. Cleaning alternatives are to brush the dirt off and peel the caps or with large mushrooms, such as porcini and Portobello, simply wipe clean with a damp towel.
Eat mushrooms raw in salads, lightly sautéed, stewed, cooked in a casserole, or simply stuff their caps for a delightful appetizer. Any way you cook them, and myths aside, delirium will surely follow.
More foodservice operations are offering mushroom-based meals and more consumers are bringing mushrooms home from the grocery store. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time for you to put more mushrooms on your menus.
Shroom vroom : According to the Mushroom Council, based in Dublin, CA, there has been a significant rise in mushroom consumption. A recent survey showed that consumers were including mushrooms in their meals at least three times per month (up from twice a month in 1994).
White mushrooms are the most commonly used mushrooms in non-commercial kitchens, according to council research, in both while and pre-sliced versions. Portabellas come in second, followed by shiitake and oyster. Those statistics mirror the commercial restaurant segments’ use of mushrooms.
Mushrooms are generally thought of and prepared like vegetables. Up to two cups of mushrooms are allowed daily during the induction phase of low-carb diets. They can be used wherever the texture fo meat is desired. Try a grilled portabella with whipped sweet potatoes, wilted pea shoots, pearl onions, and roasted red chili chutney.
Portabella burgers are available frozen, and can be used as a burger sandwich, or as a filling for burritos and hot sandwiches. Grilled portabellas or other mushroom varieties can be accompanied by couscous and salad, or by a cold lentil salad and a squash stew for a beautiful plate presentation.
Mild and seasonable : Mushrooms generally have a mild flavor and lend well to seasoning. Large mushrooms, such as portabellas, large button, lobster, and porcini, lend themselves to baking, roasting and, grilling. Offer a mushroom “steak” or a mixed mushroom grill as an entrée, served on a bed of herbed rice, paired with garlic-black beans and fresh corn, as a sandwich, or layered with shredded salad greens, sliced onions and tomatoes on a sourdough roll or baguette.
Smaller mushrooms can be chopped and used for texture and flavoring. A duxelle is a combination of mushrooms and shallots (or onions) chopped so fine as to resemble a paste. This earthy, flavorful ingredient can be used to flavor stuffing, pilafs, soups and cooked grains, or can be served as an elegant spread as a hot, or cold appetizer. Spread duxelle on melba toast or matzo, then top with chopped olives, capers, and chopped pimentos, for a colorful appetizer. Or stir some duxelle into a canned mushroom soup (use blended tofu instead of water or milk) to create a thick, flavorful creamy soup (which can also be used as a mushroom sauce). Stuff tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, and even more mushrooms with plain duxelle or duxelle mixed with cooked rice, barley or stuffing. Bake and serve with a mushroom sauce.
Not so long ago, the only varieties of this edible fungus easily obtained in the United States, were white or button mushrooms. Now there’s an enormous range in stores, each kind offering a variation on the earthy flavor they all share.
Specialty mushrooms are excellent in pastas and risottos and in egg, veal and poultry dishes. They’re also good with green vegetables, especially asparagus. Almost any member of the onion family will elevate their flavor. Among herbs, thyme marries best with mushrooms, but try rosemary and sage, too.
Delicate mushrooms, such as chanterelles and black trumpets, are best sautéed over moderate heat in a combination of butter and olive oil, until their moisture seeps out and evaporates. They can then be added to pastas or vegetables, or combined with wine or stock for sauces. Heartier mushrooms like shiitakes and portobellos, can be stir-fried, grilled, or boiled.
Fresh, canned, dried : Mushrooms are available fresh, canned/jarred, and dried. Select the kind best suited to your budget, kitchen staff’s skills, and menu.
Fresh mushrooms have a firm texture. They are delicate and highly perishable, and must be handled with care. They are sensitive to hot temperatures, and rough shipping. Many varieties of fresh mushrooms are seasonal, so have a back-up variety.
Canned/jarred mushrooms are generally of the button mushroom type (visit Asian markets to find canned enoki, oyser, and straw mushrooms). Canned/jarred mushrooms are convenient and require little handling. Try our flavored mushrooms – marinated/pickled, or in a garlic/teriyaki sauce. Marinated/Pickled mushrooms make a refreshing antipasto, and are a great complement to cold salads/sandwiches.
Dried mushrooms are available year-round, and store easily. Dried mushrooms must be reconstituted prior to use (or your customers will be chewing on wood-like ingredients). Dried mushrooms can be soaked in water, vegetable stock, or broth, until they are the desired texture. Save the soaking liquid, as it is quite flavorful, and use as a base for soups and sauces, or as cooking liquid for beans and grains.
Once reconstituted, dried mushrooms are perishable and must be stored in the refrigerator. Purchase mushrooms from reputable purveyors, and never serve mushrooms you’ve picked yourself (unless you are very well trained in mycology, the study of mushrooms). The right variety of mushrooms can be wonderful. The wrong variety can be deadly.