Mushrooms — Earthy Hidden Treasures

Monterey Winter Mushrooms

Did you know the Monterey Bay area is the second largest producer of mushrooms in the US and third in the world? Pennsylvania, where mushroom farming was pioneered, ranks first in the US for mushroom production. The Chinese learned mushroom farming in Pennsylvania for shiitake production and are the number one producer in the world.

What were once exotic are now commonplace — shiitakes, oysters, cremini, chanterelles, and Portobellos. Most varieties can be found at the Aptos Farmers Market. New Natives offers shiitake and oyster mushrooms, and Blanca at Global Mushroom carries Portobello, cremini and white button mushrooms.

What’s in a name? Cremini, button, white, Portobello—these are all types of button mushrooms, or Agaricus bisporus – the domesticated version of Agaricus campestris, the “field” mushroom. Although there are some differences in texture and depth of flavor, they all have the same flavor profile. And regardless of the names, creminis, the coffee colored button, given the right conditions, grow into Portobellos.

White Button Mushrooms
White buttons are a wetter mushroom that cooks faster than the cremini, and the end result is usually more tender. If you need a mushroom to “disappear” into a dish, the white is your fungus. Minced fine then and cooked down, they do well as a background or a foundation flavor in stocks and soups, especially coupled with onions. They pair well with poultry (especially light meat), fish, and vegetables that are more delicate. If using wine, I tend to reach for white wine, but red works if that’s what’s on hand. White buttons sauté and grill wonderfully, and do well in soups, roasts and braises, but you will see a fair amount of shrinkage.

Cremini
Cremini are a denser mushroom with less water in them. In my experience, they take longer to cook, and present a denser, meatier finished product. They hold their shape well, even sliced thinly, when cooked, and do well in starring roles as well as support roles. Cremini have a deeper flavor than the white variant, and this allows them to stand out in a dish, and makes them desirable when making a dense vegetable stock to be used where a meat stock would normally be used. They pair well with meats and poultry, are excellent for robust pasta dishes and do well with vegetables that have pronounced flavors. I usually douse them with red wine when using wine in the dish. They do well sautéed, roasted, braised, and skewered on the grill, and don’t shrink much.

Portobello
Portobello mushrooms retain their shape very well (unless they’re older, in which case they can deflate and shrink an amazing amount, and are best avoided), and have a robust flavor of their own that can stand out. Sauté, roast in chunks or whole, braise, or grill whole or on skewers. Portobellos are great in pastas and stews, and lend a deep meaty flavor to vegetarian dishes. I always remove their fibrous stems and either grind them up for a stuffing or slice them paper-thin lengthwise and dry them in the oven at the lowest setting until dry. I use these stems either for soup or sauce bases, or grind them and add to breading or as a flavor booster in various dishes. Added to the beginning of risotto or bolognese sauce, they bring extra depth to the dish.

Storage and Handling
Here are storage and handling tips from MontereyMushrooms.com:

  • Immediately refrigerate after receiving. Store between 34°-38°F and 85-90% humidity.
  • Mushrooms keep for at least a week in the refrigerator.
  • Keep mushrooms in original packaging until ready to use.
  • Once opened, store mushrooms in a brown paper bag.
  • Fresh mushrooms should never be frozen, but frozen sautéed mushrooms will keep for up to a month.
  • Do not store near pungent items as mushrooms may absorb strong odors.
  • Do not stack heavy items on top of mushroom containers.
  • Do not wash before storage. When ready to use, wipe gently with a damp cloth or soft brush to remove dirt. For volume preparation, quickly rinse in cool water; drain. Shake gently to remove excess water. Do not soak mushrooms because they absorb water which speeds up deterioration.

How to Pair Mushrooms with Food
Portobellos pair well with meat (grilled, stewed, or braised) and robust fish such as swordfish, halibut, and salmon. Hearty pasta dishes are also their friends, as are casseroles and chewy grains. Match the wine to the dish – white wine for a finely sliced sauté to accompany seared roast halibut, red wine for a chunkier sauté of diced mushrooms to go with grilled salmon. When selecting Portobellos, always look for gills that are pink or a pale brown, and check that the rim of the mushroom is still curled underneath. Avoid a flat cap, which conveys age. When the gills turn dark they can color the dish and bring a bitter, almost dirty flavor to the dish. If all you have are older mushrooms, or darker gills, gently scrape the gills away using a spoon or dinner knife.

Nutrition
I didn’t think mushrooms had much nutritive value. Boy, was I wrong! Mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamins B2, B3, B5, B6, B1, and Folacin. B vitamins are all helpful dealing with stress. Mushrooms are also good for minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and copper. One serving of mushrooms can yield up to 10% of the RDA of iron as well, and is good for 2 grams of protein too. Research shows they have anti-microbial properties, and they have been reported to have an anti-tumor ingredient as well. And they are low in fat — five medium-sized raw mushrooms (about 3.5 ounces) are only 25 calories.

There’s a lot more to mushrooms than meets the eye. Why not find new ways to incorporate the fungus among us into your meals?

RECIPES: Balsamic Roasted Portobello Mushrooms, Cheese and Spinach Stuffed Portobellos, Basic Balsamic Marinated Mushrooms, Roasted Cremini Muhsrooms and Asparagus, Braised Boy Choy with Shiitake Mushrooms, Braised Greens with Shiitake Mushrooms topped with Baked Fennel and Parmesan, Spinach and Fennel Stuffed Mushrooms, Baby Bok Choy and Oyster Mushrooms, Collard Greens and Shiitake Mushrooms, Filet Mignon Spring Rolls with Side of  Szechwan Haricot Vert and Shiitake Mushrooms, Scallops and Mushrooms in Vanilla Cream Sauce, Seared Quail with Porcini Sauce, Asparagus, Brie and Oyster Mushroom Bread Pudding, Spinach, Mushroom Pistachio Stuffing, Pork Steak with Mushroom Cream Sauce, Korean Panfried Tofu with Mushroom and Spicy Sesame Sauce, Fall Vegetable Braise