Mmmmm. Mushrooms. Yummy little bundles of fungi. Not all mushrooms are created equal though. I’m finding this out now that I’m cooking more and more with mushrooms.
Each variety has it’s own unique flavor and it’s own place on the plate. If you expect a button and find a portobello on your plate, you may be a little disgruntled. Don’t worry though Protobello’s are yummy too!
I put together a helpful little guide to knowing some of the more common mushrooms found in restaurants around the world.
If you are in the US, chances are you are familiar with the button mushroom, also known as the champignon in France. It’s found on Pizza, in steak sauce and on the salad bar. These little gems are delicious raw or cooked. The Button mushroom is mild and crisp when raw. Cooking turns it more meaty and really brings out the flavor. It’s generally small, smooth, rounded and off white in color.
Chanterelle are usually harvested wild and if you are lucky enough to find them in a restaurant, you should most definitely give them a try. They are a rare treat. You’re most likely to find Chanterelle on the menu of a fine French restaurant although you may find them in any American restraint where the chef frequents the farmers market. Although the flavor is all mushroom, the fragrance is reminiscent of fresh apricots.
Chanterelle have firm flesh and a graceful appearance. They look like small trumpets when they are fresh.
The cremino is a young portobello mushroom. It’s often labeled with the cutsie name of a “baby bella.” Until recently, the Crimini were most often used in Italian dishes. Since their popularity has sky rocketed over the past few years, you can now find them on the menu in a variety restaurants. They are often used in place of button mushrooms to give the meal a fancier appearance. The flavor of the cremini is stronger and more earthy than the button. These are a little bigger than Button mushrooms with light brown caps.
The Enoki is a mushroom found in East Asian cuisine. Traditionally, these mushrooms are used in soups, spring rolls and stir fry’s but recently, they have been cropping up in unexpected recipes, like the bacon wrapped Enoki. This might be too much for the Enoki lover to bear- with it’s mild, fruity flavor, the enoki could be easily over powered but it retains some of it’s crunch even after light cooking so the possibilities are endless. The enoki are delicate white and grow in clusters of long, slender bodies with tiny caps.
Oyster mushrooms are found in many Chinese and Japanese dishes. They have a sweet odor that mirrors their mild flavor. The meat delicate, smooth and as soft as velvet. If you get a king oyster mushroom, it can be chewy but not tough. Oyster mushrooms come in a wide variety. they can come very big or small and range in color from decidedly blue, to pale gray, to an earthy brown.
A portobello, or portabella is what happens when you let cremino grow up. It retains it’s deep earthy flavor and hearty texture. In fact, it may even improve with age. The portobello mushroom is often used as a meat substitute in vegan recipes and can grow rather large. They are great for stuffing or slicing and grilling over an open fire. The portobello is large, brown, with deeply colored gills.
Porcini are a type of bolet mushroom. That means that instead of gills, they have pores on the underside of their caps. Porcini are popular in French and Italian dishes but in the US, they are rarely found fresh. If you find a porcino on a menu, chances are it was dried and rehydrated for cooking. Porcini are chewy and flavorful with a woodsy addition to the earthy mushroom base.
Shitake grow on old oak wood. They are cultivated in Japan and prized for their smoky flavor that’s reflected in their fragrant aroma. Shitake has a chewy texture that adds depth to any recipe. The stems of these beauties are usually tough and inedible so they are removed prior to cooking. Shitake are small, light brown with thin, tough stems.