Porcini, shiitake, lobster, matsutake, enoki, oyster, shimeji, button, crimini, portobello, cauliflower, morel, chanterelle. What do these names all have in common? They are all varieties of mushrooms!
I am back with my “In Season” guides on the blog! Since it is the dead of winter and there are limited fresh fruits and vegetables available in BC at the moment, I am speaking to the mighty mushroom, since they are grown and harvested year-round.
In this guide, I walk you through some fun facts about mushrooms and give you tips about buying and storing them. I also run through some of my favourite mushroom varieties–focusing on mushrooms from an Asian origin. I have been using these mushrooms in my cooking a lot recently (especially in preparing recipes for Chinese New Year!) so I decided to shine the spotlight on them at the moment. Don’t worry, I will still cover off my other favourite mushroom varieties in another post in the future! For now, let’s dig in and learn all about mushrooms!
Some Fun-gi Facts
Mushrooms are prized for their deep, rich, and savoury umami flavour. Neither a plant or a vegetable, these fungi come in thousands of different varieties. Similarly, based on variety, mushrooms have varying price points ranging from a few dollars per pound to thousands of dollars per pound. It may sound ridiculous, but I imagine that it is worth it given the rarity of some mushroom varieties and the amount of work to harvest mushrooms, particularly in the wild. Not that I’ve ever had European White Truffle before, but if I had the money, I would spend it on that!
In BC, mushrooms are harvested from the wild mainly in the fall and very early winter months, however many mushrooms are farmed and harvested year-round in indoors facilities throughout BC. Contrary to popular belief, mushrooms do not have to be grown in dark rooms. Since mushrooms lack the ability to use energy from the sun to grow, they can be kept in any light condition. What’s most important is the moisture and temperature levels. The varieties that are often grown indoors (such as button and crimini) are relatively quick growing, so you always have access to fresh mushrooms throughout the year. Some heartier mushroom varieties (like shiitake, porcini and morel) even come in dried form and can be stored for quite some time too!
Buying & Storing
Before delving into my favourite types of Asian mushrooms, it’s a good idea to know how to buy and store them. Read on down below for my tips and tricks and then get to know some of my favourite Asian mushrooms a bit better!
When buying fresh mushrooms, ensure that the look firm and plump. The scent of the mushrooms will vary by variety, but in general, they often have a fresh woody smell. The colour of the mushroom should be even and should be void of soft spots or bruises. Avoid any mushrooms that may be wet or smell like mildew- these have spoiled or are about to spoil.
When storing fresh mushrooms, keep them in the fridge in a paper bag that has been sealed. Avoid wrapping the mushrooms in plastic and avoid washing the mushrooms prior to storing (and most often, entirely) to avoid spoilage. Most fresh mushrooms can be kept in the fridge for 3-5 days, however, delicate mushrooms like enoki are best eaten within 1-2 days.
Dried mushrooms often come in packages so it’s a little bit more difficult to select the best mushrooms. Overall, ensure that the mushrooms are even in colour and that none of the mushrooms are broken. I recommend buying mushrooms that have been vacuum-sealed as they keep their freshness longer than those that are simply bagged or in bulk.
Storing dried mushrooms is simple. Place them in a cupboard or away from light and heat sources and keep them sealed in their package. Any leftover dried mushrooms should be kept in an airtight container away from light and heat as well. Dried mushrooms can last for a long time but use them up within 6 months or so to experience the best flavour.
Shimeji mushrooms are very commonly used throughout Japan in soups or in stir frys. These mushrooms have a mild mushroom taste and are firm and chewy once cooked. They have white or cream coloured stems with brown caps that are often speckled with dark brown dots. White shimeji mushrooms are also popular and can be found with white caps as well. Shimeji grow in clusters as pictured above and are harvested at the root. Additionally, these mushrooms are often found fresh, not dried. When cooking, simply cut off the root and use your hands to gently separate the individual mushrooms. I often try to separate the large mushrooms out and keep the smaller mushrooms in clusters of 4-5 so that they all cook in the same amount of time.
The mighty Shiitake mushroom has both wonderful flavour and texture. These mushrooms have a deep and flavourful mushroom taste– and have loads of umami. Shiitakes have a yellow to orange coloured stem and gills and have dark brown caps. They grow individually and are are cut at the base of the stem when harvested. These mushrooms can come fresh or dried. I try to buy fresh whenever I can if I am sautéeing them or maybe stuffing them into some dumplings or raviloi. However, I always keep dried shiitake mushrooms on hand for when I am making Asian-inspired soups to give the soup a deep, rich umami flavour.
Enoki mushrooms are the most delicate of the bunch. These long white tendrils are stringy and fibrous, giving them a great chewy quality. They have a delicate mushroom flavour and are great to add into soups and stir frys. However, as I mentioned before, since these mushrooms are so delicate, it is best to use them within 1-2 days to ensure they do not spoil. Just like shimeji mushrooms, enoki mushrooms grow in clusters and are harvested at the root. When preparing enoki mushrooms, I cut the root off and gently separate small clusters of mushrooms, rather than letting each mushroom stray individually. Not only does this help the enoki cook better, it’s easier to eat and you get to taste the full flavour of the enoki when they are in a small, bite-sized bunch.
So there you have it–part one of my mushroom guide! I hope that you learned a thing or two about my favourite Asian mushrooms and about mushrooms in general along with how to buy and store them.
Let me know in the comments below what your favourite mushroom variety is and what you like most about it! Alternatively, let me know if you are a mushroom hater–I know you exist!