Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Shroomy Tradeout

Hello all.

    Recently -and by recently I mean within the last year- I've found that I really DO like mushrooms! In my senior year of high school, I took a botany class; during this class, we studied many plants (obviously) that I discovered were of culinary use, but also of the class of life that we call "Fungi".

    In fungus, of course, are yeasts, or Saccharomyces, molds and 'water-molds' -including blights- or zygo– and oomycetes, respectively. Then Ascomycetes, or Sac fungus, which have some of the most notable and expensive families, such as the morel (Morchella sp.), the penicillin family (Penicillium sp.) -those responsible for the blue in blue cheese- and the truffles (Tuber sp.). And, last but not least, the Basidiamycetes: this family contains just about every other mushroom you can think of; meaning everything from the Honey mushroom, Beefsteak, Bolete, and the Shiitake, to the Chantrelle, Trumpet, Black Cap, Turkey Tail, and the Reishi!

    Anyways, back to the class, we had a "Mushroom Tasting Lab". This was completely rhetorical... First of all, it was a sad excuse for a lab, second, most labs in high school science class shouldn't be doing ANY tasting, and third of all, this lab has turned out, culinary speaking, almost the epitome of the learning I retained from my senior year! Over all, it was a fairly simple thing: cook up a couple fungi, require anybody not allergic to try at least four of the eight -or so- different mushrooms, then watch as the masses of students line up, time after time, to destroy their fungal xenophobia. On the menu were re-hydrated morels, oyster mushrooms, shiitake, white button mushrooms, maitake, porcini, and Hen-of-the-Woods. All sauted in butter with just a pinch of salt and a touch of garlic. Perfection. In every bite.

    Anyways~ enough drooling, I'd like to address the sad point that mushrooms are HORRIBLY underutilized! Almost everybody has, at one time, seen or eaten stuffed button mushrooms.
I simply want people to understand that the small pieces of rubber that everybody calls the "button mushroom" is a VERY small category of the massive world of edible fungus! Mushrooms, soy, beans, and seaweeds are the only non-animal sources of the "5th taste", the "flavor of savory", also known as Umami.

    Umami is what makes red meats so desirable and full flavored, but it's also what gives certain mushrooms their butcher-esque names, such as Beefsteak, Chicken-of-the Woods, Hen-of-the-Woods, Oyster, etc. These mushrooms actually taste what they sound like they will! Beefsteak and Chicken- and Hen-of-the-Woods all taste like beef and chicken, respectively, while cooked oyster mushrooms have a flavor reminiscent of clams. In fact, a soup made of celery, carrots, potato, spice, and pureed oyster mushroom could even pass as a vegan alternative to clam chowder!

    In case you were wondering, this is where I actually get to where I help you with utilization tips for mushrooms, so here are a few super simple ways to bring both fresh and dried mushrooms into everyday cuisine.†


~Grill large mushrooms that have been marinated lightly in soy sauce or a simple balsamic vinaigrette.
~Substitute meat in tomato sauces for slices of Shiitake. Saute just before adding the tomatoes, just enough to lightly wilt the edges.
~Make a simple miso soup by adding shiitakes to a simple broth with tofu, green onion, miso paste, and soy sauce. The recipe is here.


~Saute 1/2 cup fresh or re-hydrated mushrooms in 2-3 tablespoons of butter with 1 or 2 minced garlic cloves.
~Crush dried morels into a powder, sprinkling it into sauces for an assertive version of the great mushroom flavor of morels.
~Large mushrooms can be filled with meaty, possibly *slightly* sweet fillings, such as soft cheeses, and sauteed then baked, like pan-roasted cannelloni.


~Grill large mushroom on a heavy-weight indoor grill pan with just a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.
~Replace the clams or oysters in a seafood soup with fresh mushrooms.


Okay, okay, I KNOW this should be kind of a no-brainer, but I was seriously stumped on how to COOK with them!
~Add black truffle shavings in with the cream for potato or pasta gratin.
~Shave white truffles over dishes just before serving, the gentle heat will activate some of the key flavors.
~To make Truffle Butter, cut sticks of butter into 1/2 wide logs, building "butter walls" and a "butter roof" around and over a black truffle that has been cut or shaved off of. Makes sure the butter doesn't actually TOUCH the truffle, or the truffle will infiltrate the butter... no joke. Anyways, leave for about 3 days, a week tops, in a square container in the fridge.


~Roast these unique 'shrooms' with fingerling potatoes in oil with garlic and shallot.


~Saute with rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper in a medium-high pan until just browned on one side, then flip and repeat.
~To make Thai Souphet, add Hen-of-the-Woods to fish sauce, mint, cilantro, cayenne, and lime juice. I get it, doesn't sound right... keep in mind that Asian cuisine -Thai is DEFINITELY no exception to this- is all about balance: sweet-salty, strong-subtle, fiery-cool. Anyways, the recipes is as follows.

Please comment any tips, recipes, and comments.
Thank you, and enjoy,

†These recipes may or may not be added to in the future, any comments with supportive recipes, hints or tips will be added, with credit given to the commentor.

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