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All About Mushrooms

Buy, Store, and Cook With Mushrooms

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Mushrooms are edible fungi full of deep woodsy flavor that add depth and heartiness to dishes. There are untold varieties of edible mushrooms, but as different as their flavors are they can be treated and used in much the same way.

How to Buy Mushrooms

Photo © Molly Watson
Mushrooms should look fresh and smell good. Avoid mushrooms that have any whiff of a mildew, mold, or musty smell rather than a clean, woodsy scent. Also avoid mushrooms that look shriveled, desiccated, darkened, wet, or moldy. The exact texture will depend on the variety of mushroom, of course, but in general mushrooms should be relatively firm, not limp or squishy.

How to Store Mushrooms

Store mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator or wrapped in paper towels and then loosely wrapped with plastic. Enclosing mushrooms in a plastic bag will make them sweat and spoil more quickly. Wild mushrooms will last for a few days stored this way; cultivated mushrooms will last up to a week or two.

How to Clean Mushrooms

Mushrooms are like sponges and will soak up any water they get near. Minimize how much water mushrooms are exposed to or they will get water-laden and soggy. Relatively clean mushrooms can simply be brushed clean with a pastry brush or dry paper towel. For more cleaning power, use a damp paper towel. If you must rinse or wash them, put the mushrooms in a large basin of cold water, swish them around, and quickly lift them out of the water and into a colander or layers of papers towels so the water can drip off the mushrooms quickly.

One trick I use with morel mushrooms that works well with any fungi infused with bits from the meadows and woods where they grew: start by putting them in a paper bag, shake fairly vigorously, and lift the mushrooms out of the bag. This will loosen dirt and other debris and leave it behind in the bag. Such mushrooms usually then require the rinse of water described above, but it's a good start to getting them clean!

Mushroom Varieties

Photo © Molly Watson
There are tons of mushrooms out there, and more and more of them are finding their way to markets. See this Guide to Cultivated Mushrooms and this Guide to Wild Mushrooms to learn more.

How to Cook Mushrooms

Photo © Molly Watson
Too many fine mushrooms are ruined by slow, stewing heat. Mushrooms are at their best when quickly cooked over very high heat so as they release their liquid it is cooked off quickly. See How to Saute Mushrooms for specifics.

Mushrooms are also delicious grilled (if they're large enough), cooked in soups, and used in a stuffing. This Cream of Mushroom Soup is a favorite at my house, as is this Mushroom-Stuffed Winter Squash

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