I enjoy hunting – for mushrooms, not for game; at the market, not in the forest. They add flavor and flair to almost any dish, from scrambled eggs to rice pilaf to vegetable soup, turning everyday dishes into festive fare with little effort. In short, they are one of our best allies in the kitchen.
They stand out in my memories of fine dinners, from mint-flavored wild
mushrooms in puff pastry at the illustrious Michel Guerard restaurant in
southwest France to an omelet filled with garlic-scented cèpes at a
café in Provence. Even in the simplest of settings a fresh mushroom can
be extraordinary, like the porcini mushrooms my husband and I bought
while traveling in Tuscany, which we sauteed in olive oil on our van’s
burner and ate outdoors.
We are fortunate that fresh white button mushrooms are easy to find. At
good supermarkets I buy meaty brown shiitake mushrooms, trumpet-shaped
oyster mushrooms (called “pitriyot
” in Hebrew) and plate-size portobello mushrooms.
In the past, plenty of effort and even risk were involved when people
had to gather their own mushrooms. Luckily, the Chinese started
domesticating shiitakes more than 600 years ago, and the French began
cultivating white mushrooms two centuries ago.
There are two basic techniques for cooking mushrooms, explained the chef
at cooking school in Paris – white cooking and brown cooking.
White-cooked mushrooms, we learned, were boiled briefly in a bit of
liquid, which was then used in a delicate sauce. Brown-cooked mushrooms
were sauteed briefly on high heat. Traditionally white-cooked mushrooms
went into white stews (made with white wine and often cream), and
browned mushrooms were intended for dishes with a red wine sauce.
The superb French classics featuring mushrooms, such as sole normande,
in which they are paired with luscious creme fraiche in a sauce for the
delicate fish, or chicken chasseur with tomatoes, shallots and tarragon,
are so delicious that for years I ignored tasty mushroom dishes from
But when I tasted mushroom curry with peas at an Indian vegetarian
restaurant, I loved it. One of my favorite recipes, from my friend
Neelam Batra’s tome, 1,000 Indian
, is a mushroom curry accented with almonds, poppy seeds,
ginger and cardamom. A Thai friend of mine taught me how to make a rich
Thai mushroom and red chili curry with coconut milk and a variety of
vegetables. For a unique accent to bouillabaisse, Masaharu Morimoto,
author of Morimoto – the New Art of
, cooks seafood with shiitake mushrooms and miso
Vegetarians and frugal cooks looking for meat substitutes have long
prized mushrooms for their meaty texture and satisfying flavor. Robin
Robertson, author of Vegan Planet
makes butternut squash and wild mushroom lasagna with layers of the
sauteed vegetables, lasagna noodles and vegan mozzarella cheese.
Fillings of chopped or sliced mushrooms are wonderful in crepes and all
sorts of pastries, accompanied by a mushroom sauce. Mushrooms enhance
both meat and vegetable stuffings, and taste great when stuffed with
spinach puree, garlic butter, meat filling or cheese-flavored bread
A few mushrooms can lend a wonderful aroma and flavor to a sauce or
soup. When I asked the chef-owner of Vinh Loi, a vegetarian Vietnamese
restaurant in Reseda, California, what was the secret to his delicious
soups, which were as full flavored as their meat-based counterparts, he
replied: “The broth is made with mushroom powder.” Mushrooms are good
partners for steak, chicken, fish, rice, vegetables – just about every
food. They can even flavor desserts! Indeed, mushroom ice cream is the
specialty of an ice cream parlor in Fort Bragg, California.
At the market choose mushrooms that are free of soft spots, bruises and
mold. Button mushrooms with firm, closed caps will keep the longest.
Exotic mushrooms should not be wet but should not be dried out around
the edges either.
Button mushrooms keep up to five days; exotic mushrooms should be used
within three days. It’s important to keep mushrooms dry; do not leave
them in a plastic bag. You can keep them in a paper bag in the
refrigerator or, if they seem to be getting too dry, put the paper bag
inside a perforated plastic bag and leave the end open. I find they keep
better on a refrigerator shelf than in a drawer.
Clean mushrooms attentively just before cooking them. French chefs
simply rinse each mushroom carefully and rub it gently to remove any
sand. Delicate exotic mushrooms can be wiped with a damp paper towel
instead so they don’t lose flavor. Check the mushrooms to be sure no
sand or grit remains and trim off the bottom part of the stem if it is
dry or dirty.
Dried mushrooms keep for months, according to Jack Czarnecki, author of Joe’s Book of Mushroom Cookery
not indefinitely. Although they might seem expensive, he reminds us
that 100 pounds of fresh mushrooms yield a maximum of 10 pounds dried.
Besides, their flavor is concentrated and so you need only a small
amount in a dish. You can add a few to any fresh mushroom sauce or soup
to intensify its flavor.
To reconstitute dried mushrooms, soak them in warm water for about 20
minutes or until pliable. You can use the soaking liquid in a sauce or
soup, but don’t add the sandy part at the bottom of the bowl.Faye Levy is the author of the
Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.
MUSHROOMS WITH RED PEPPERS, CUMIN AND
This quick dish is a fine way to prepare button mushrooms. The
flavorings of cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper give the mushrooms a
Middle Eastern accent. Serve them as an appetizer with pita or sesame
bread, as a main course with rice or couscous, or as a side dish with
grilled lamb or chicken.
3 or 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, diced
450 gr. mushrooms, quartered
1 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄4 tsp. turmeric (optional)
1 tsp. dried thyme
1⁄2 tsp. paprika
1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Heat oil in large heavy skillet. Add onion and pepper and saute about 7
minutes over medium heat. Add mushrooms, cumin, turmeric, thyme,
paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper and saute over medium heat, stirring
often, about 10 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Add parsley
and remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.
Makes 4 servings as side dish.MUSHROOM MEDLEY WITH MADEIRA AND BUTTER
Combine any kind of exotic mushrooms with button mushrooms for this
richly flavored stew, or use white mushrooms alone, doubling the
quantity. The dish is a delicious companion for white or brown rice or
poached eggs, and makes a fine filling for omelets. With olive oil
replacing the butter, the mushrooms are a terrific topping for grilled
115 gr. fresh portobello mushrooms
115 gr. white mushrooms
1 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
4 Tbsp. butter
1 large shallot or green onion, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1⁄3 cup Madeira
1 Tbsp minced parsley
Gently rinse mushrooms and dry on paper towels. Cut portobello mushrooms
in bite-size pieces. Halve white mushrooms and cut in thin slices.
In a large heavy skillet, heat oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium
heat. Stir in shallot, then portobello mushrooms, and salt and pepper to
taste. Saute, tossing often, about 4 minutes, or until mushrooms are
just tender. Remove from pan.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to skillet and melt over medium-high
heat. Add button mushrooms and salt and pepper to taste, and saute about
3 minutes, or until light brown. Return portobello mushrooms to skillet
and reheat mushroom mixture until sizzling. Add Madeira and simmer over
medium heat, stirring, about 3 minutes, or until it is absorbed by
mushrooms. Taste and adjust seasoning, transfer to a serving dish,
sprinkle with parsley, and serve.
Makes 4 servings.