Know Your Mushrooms

Choose clean, dry mushrooms with a firm texture that are free of bruises and blemishes. Store in the refrigerator in a closed paper bag. Plastic bags cause quicker deterioration. At preparation time, rinse mushrooms quickly in cool water or wipe with a damp paper towel to remove any peat moss particles. Peeling mushrooms is not recommended.


AGARICUS (white or button) -- The most widely available, all-purpose mushroom is snow white to beige in color with a mild flavor and firm texture. Serve raw or cooked. Mature specimens with open veils under the cap have a deeper, richer flavor. Shelf life: 5-7 days.

CREMINI (Italian or Roman brown) -- Similar in appearance and versatility to the agaricus but light tan to deep brown in color. (They are of the same genus and species.) The flavor is slightly earthy, the texture dense and firm. Shelf life: 5-7 days.

ENOKI (enokitake) -- Fine and thin, creamy white, long-stemmed mushrooms with tiny caps, a mild flavor and crisp texture. Best used raw in soups and salads. Often used as a garnish for Asian dishes. Shelf life: Up to 14 days.

MAITAKE (Hen of the Woods) -- A very fragile, light brown to gray, overlapping, leafy formation, or clump, that can grow as large as a head of lettuce. They have an exotic, delicate flavor when cooked or eaten raw. Shelf life: Up to 5 days.

OYSTER (pleurotus) -- A velvety, fluted mushroom grown in a range of colors including yellow, pink, brown, gray and white. Whether raw or cooked, the oyster mushroom's flavor, sometimes compared to the shellfish of the same name, is mild and briny, and the texture delicate and silky. Shelf life: 5-7 days.

PORTOBELLO (also portabella) -- A mature cremini darkens in color and becomes a portobello when the veil under the cap breaks and the gills are visible. They range in size to 6 inches in diameter. The intense, earthy flavor and chewy texture is often described as meat-like. Best when cooked. Great on the grill. Shelf life: 7-10 days.

SHIITAKE (oak, Chinese or Black Forest) -- The umbrella-shaped shiitake is tan to tawny brown in color with an open veil between the stem and cap. The flavor is woodsy and rich. Shiitakes are best when cooked. Discard the fibrous stems before cooking or save for the stock pot. Shelf life: Up to 14 days.


Mother Nature still has the upper hand with farmers when it comes to growing chanterelles, morels, porcini (known also as cepes) and other wild mushrooms. They are difficult to cultivate. Nearly all are hand picked in the wild (where, of course, they are free) and then brought to markets (where they are generally very expensive). But only the highly experienced and knowledgeable forager should gather wild mushrooms. Many toxic mushrooms look much like the edible ones and need to be identified by a trained expert. It is far safer to buy these exotic delights from a reliable source and enjoy them knowing they are safe, even if you have to pay a premium price.

When cooking with mushrooms, it is important to remember that each type offers its own aroma, intensity and flavor, and trying new ones will add another dimension to your recipes. You can build a dish around just one mushroom or put two or more together for a more complex flavor.

BOLETE (cepe, porcini) -- This European favorite is a soft-fleshed mushroom with pores instead of gills under its rust-brown cap. The stem is round and bulbous. Fresh boletes have a bright, woodsy aroma and flavor. The texture of a sautéed cap and stem is meaty. Check carefully for insects.

CHANTERELLE -- Beautiful, trumpet- or funnel-shaped fungi, with a fruity, apricot-like flavor, that can be found in shades of golden yellow as well as orange and red. Handle fragile chanterelles carefully.

MOREL -- Distinctive, cone-shaped mushrooms with a pronounced earthy aroma and flavor. They can be colored in shades from beige to black. Avoid mushy, soft caps. The hollow core can harbor insects.


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