They are nu­tri­tious, they are ver­sa­tile, and here’s how to make the most of them


Mar­vel­lous mush­rooms

If I were to de­scribe mush­rooms in one word, it would be a toss up be­tween “mirac­u­lous” and “mis­un­der­stood.” Mirac­u­lous be­cause they are the only prod­uct in the pro­duce aisle with vi­ta­min D. They con­tain this nat­u­rally, but lev­els ramp up when ex­posed to UV light — just like the hu­mans that con­sume them. Vi­ta­min D is only one of the 15 nu­tri­ents they de­liver. The best part? Whole or sliced, cooked or raw, mush­rooms main­tain their nu­tri­tional profile.

While their nu­tri­ents are sta­ble, some mush­rooms them­selves are shape-shifters. Cri­m­i­nis, which are har­vested at two to three days, dou­ble in size ev­ery 24 hours. By day five or six the once small cri­m­ini has grown into a full-fledged porta­bella, which ex­plains why cri­m­i­nis are some­times mar­keted as “baby bel­las”. De­spite rapid growth and year-round har­vest­ing, mush­rooms re­quire no chem­i­cals or pes­ti­cides to thrive.

Yet for all their marvels, mush­rooms are vic­tim to many mis­con­cep­tions.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, they don’t need to be kept in the dark. They thrive in any light con­di­tion. Af­ter all, the hu­mans who grow and pick them need a well-lit op­er­a­tion to see what they’re do­ing. And no, mush­rooms don’t grow in ma­nure. The fa­mil­iar white, cri­m­ini and porta­bella va­ri­eties are grown in bac­te­ria-free peat moss, while shi­itakes grow on logs, and Enoki grow in saw dust.

BUY­ING AND STOR­ING Re­gard­less of the va­ri­ety, mush­rooms should be firm with a uni­form colour. Pack­aged mush­rooms will keep in the fridge for a week if left un­opened. Once the seal is bro­ken, trans­fer the mush­rooms to a pa­per bag to keep them from re­leas­ing mois­ture and get­ting slimy.

If they dry out in the pa­per bag, place a damp pa­per towel in the bag and they’ll ab­sorb the mois­ture. Even shriv­elled mush­rooms can be re­hy­drated with wa­ter.

TO WASH OR NOT TO WASH All pack­aged mush­rooms have been pre­washed, so there’s no need to wash or peel them. Any soil on them can be brushed off. How­ever, if you buy from the farm­ers’ mar­ket or from a bulk setup where other shop­pers might have touched them, just be­fore us­ing, give your mush­rooms a quick rinse and wipe with a pa­per towel. Never soak fresh mush­rooms as they will get waterlogged – and they’re al­ready 90 per cent wa­ter.

TAKE YOUR PICK White But­ton: The but­ton mush­room comes in small, medium and large. Re­gard­less of size, it has a mild flavour that de­vel­ops when cooked. The go-to of the mush­room fam­ily, white but­tons are the most pop­u­lar-sell­ing mush­room in Canada. Serve them stuffed as one-bite ap­pe­tiz­ers, purée them into soups or toss them into stir-fries. Cri­m­ini: Also called brown mush­rooms, cri­m­i­nis look like their white but­ton coun­ter­part, but are darker and firmer. While they’re meatier than white but­tons, these are just as ver­sa­tile, mak­ing a won­der­ful ad­di­tion to pizza, stews, casseroles and soups.

Porta­bella: Cov­eted for their um­brella-like caps, porta­bella mush­rooms are very meaty with an earthy taste. Whole caps can be grilled as “burg­ers,” but you can also chop them into small pieces and use them any­where but­ton or cri­m­ini are called for.

Enoki: Tall and slen­der, mild and crunchy, these are the bean sprouts of mush­rooms. They make a wel­comed ad­di­tion to sal­ads and wraps. Just trim off the roots, then en­joy them from stem to cap. While not rec­om­mended for cook­ing, you can toss them in a stir-fry at the last minute.

Oys­ter: Crooked stems and fun­nel-shaped caps make the oys­ter mush­room stand out. They’re good raw in sal­ads, but once cooked be­come creamy and vel­vety, mak­ing them ideal for cream sauces.

King oys­ter: Tow­er­ing above the other mush­rooms, these tall mush­rooms have a light brown caps and thick white stems. They’re sweet and chewy. Be­cause they stay firm when cooked, their thick stems are of­ten sliced into rings and used as a vege­tar­ian re­place­ment for scallops.

Shi­itake: Their bold, earthly flavour works well with most Asian cuisines. The caps have a spongy tex­ture. Re­move the woody stems be­fore cook­ing and use them to make soup stock.

Charmian Christie

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