If you’ve ever wandered through the woods and caught a noseful of decaying leaves, damp forest dirt, and lingering perfume, there’s a good chance you’ve found wild mushrooms. When harvested rather than trampled, they turn any dish into a feast. If you think you are using wild mushrooms as a side dish, an accent, or a garnish, think again: these dirty little flavor powerhouses intend to take over the plate.
There are so many ways to get these critters involved in your menus. Quickly sauteed with a bit of shallot or garlic, fresh wild mushrooms bring toothsome texture to a dish. The juices of a firm wild mushroom such as chanterelle or hedgehog are concentrated in the roasting pan. Floppy mushrooms such as yellowfoot and black trumpet mingle to woodsy elegance in the frying pan. Grilling works best on firm types like hen of the woods and lobster. So many varieties — so many recipes. A perfect ingredient, n’est-ce pas?
Autumn Harvest Mushrooms
Black Trumpet Grey-black, highly perfumed. Sensational in sautes with veal or pork chops.
Cepe/Porcini Plump stem and cap, earthy flavor, toothsome. Saute, roast and grill; great with game.
Chanterelle Apricot nuances, pumpkin hue, flowery shape. Saute or roast and serve with chops, pork, ham, and polenta.
Hedgehog Deep gold color, with little teeth under the cap, tangy and woodsy. Saute, roast, stew, blend into sauce or soup. Flavor corn dishes, roasts, and risottos.
Hen of the Woods/Maitake Frilly layered “leaves” in shades of brown and grey impart a scintillating scent to salads, eggs, and ravioli fillings. Grill and toss into wilted-greens salads.
Lobster Firm, red-orange, shelf-shaped. Marinate in olive oil and char on the grill. Pair with lobster and corn recipes such as a corn pudding.
Matsutake Buttery, piney, and sublime in soup. Saute, steam, use as an aromat in Japanese recipes.
Yellowfoot Gold to grey to brown, trumpet-shaped mushroom with woodsy flavor. Saute, fricasse, and roast. Use as pasta or pizza topping, and as an accompaniment to everything from fish to meat to game.
Care and Cooking Basics
SELECT Mushrooms of the same variety can vary in shape, size and coloring. Mushrooms shouldn’t have darkened or wet spots, nor should they be wrinkled or shriveled. Gills should be dry and erect, not matted. A slight ammonia odor indicates a mushroom is past its prime.
SERVING SIZE As a side dish, in stew, or as a salad component, count 1/4 lb. per person. For dishes where the mushroom is the main event, increase the quantity to 1/2 lb. per person. Remember, mushrooms are mostly water, so they shrink when cooked.
STORE Store in a basket topped with a damp paper towel, or in a loosely closed paper bag. They must be refrigerated. Check on the mushrooms’ condition every day; most varieties should be good for 3-5 days.
CLEAN: Trim off any woody stems. Brush away dirt or moss with damp paper towel. If mushrooms are sandy, quickly rinse just before cooking. Shake excess water by placing mushrooms in a colander or salad spinner.
COOK: Marinate and grill fleshy varieties. Saute delicately textured mushrooms with onion and herbs. Simmer firm mushrooms in soups. Almost any cooking method will enhance your wild mushrooms: saute, roast. braise, fry, grill, and pickle.