How To: Buy, Store, and Use Mushrooms

These tips from Sam will help you make the most of mushroom season.

How to Buy:

Most mushrooms you find the in the supermarket are cultivated indoors in a sterile growing medium. You’re probably familiar with many of these varieties: white button, brown button (cremini), portobello (actually mature creminis), shiitake, oyster, and enoki. These are the most common ones because they’re easy to cultivate; others are less so and must be wild-harvested. To me there’s nothing more exciting than a bag of these beauties: think porcinis, morels, and chanterelles. Aside from their incredible flavors and textures, their elusive nature and their refusal to be tamed make them all the more appealing.

Some more buying tips:

  1. Avoid mushrooms in shrink-wrapped containers: they trap moisture and encourage condensation, which shortens the mushrooms’ shelf life significantly. I always prefer to buy mushrooms from open bins, which give them the air circulation they need. If you have no other choice but to buy packaged mushroom, get the whole ones and slice them yourself: the extra surface area on pre-sliced mushrooms can absorb the other flavors and aromas
  2. Whatever the variety, mushrooms should be firm and dry when you buy them. A slimy surface or funky smell indicates poor storage or old age, and cooking won’t cure this.
  3. Bigger mushrooms are not necessarily better. I prefer smaller mushrooms; they’re denser and have less moisture than larger ones. There are some exceptions, of course, it’s hard to resist the rich, meaty flavor of a portobello.
How to Store:

Paper bags are the ideal storage container for mushrooms; they’re permeable enough to let just the right amount of moisture in and out of the bag as they sit in the refrigerator.

How to Use:

Because of their sensitivity to moisture, don’t wash mushrooms unless it’s really necessary, and definitely wait until you’re ready to use them. If there’s just a little dirt on the mushrooms, wipe with a paper towel or rinse quickly under water. If particularly dirty, immerse in a bowl of water and swirl gently. Leave for a few minutes to let the dirt settle, then lift the mushrooms out and spread them between two layers of towels to dry. If you’re sautéing them, be sure to dry them really well, or they won’t brown. Note: Morels tend to trap dirt on the inside and must always be soaked. Split them lengthwise first to expose inner grit.

Some varieties need more trimming than others. Shiitakes and portobellos have unpleasantly tough stems that should be removed and discarded, because tehy’re not too edible. Others can be trimmed to your liking; save any trimmings and stems and throw into your next batch of veggie broth.

Mushrooms have long served vegetarians as a meat alternative (especially the ubiquitous portobello burger), but they are also complementary to meat, fish, and poultry. Sautéing mushrooms really highlight their special flavor and texture. Stir the mushrooms in a hot pan with butter until the liquid is released and evaporated. Add garlic and shallots and a little more butter. When everything is tender, add a dash of sherry vinegar (or wine), cook until reduced, and finish with a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs. You can do this with any mushroom, from the humblest of button mushrooms to sophisticated chanterelles.

[Editor’s note: tips from Sam Mogannam’s Eat Good Food Cookbook.]

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