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Chef Tim Says....



Mushrooms

The holiday menus that will be a part of next week's newsletter will have recipes that use many different types of mushrooms. Here's a few of the more common that are available to you.

White (Button) Mushrooms

White mushrooms are the most common of the thousands of varieties of mushrooms and the most readily available in markets today. They vary in size, but mushroom growers use the term white mushroom to refer to those larger mushrooms that are over an inch in diameter. Many recipes use the term button mushroom and this refers to smaller cultivated white mushrooms.

Freshness is easy to spot with white mushrooms. Avoid those with dark spots or soft, squishy mushrooms. Turn the mushroom over and check to see if the gills are exposed. This is the best indicator of freshness. The ring is the soft covering that joins the edge of the cap to the stem and if it is not intact and the gills can be seen, the mushroom is past its prime.

The idea of not rinsing mushrooms because they absorb water is myth. Mushrooms are about 80% water to start with and numerous published tests have not shown that there is a significant amount of water absorbed when mushrooms are washed.

Crimini

Crimini mushrooms are marketed under many names, including Baby Bella, Roman, Italian, Brown or Classic Brown mushrooms. They are similar in size to white mushrooms but are a light cocoa color and have a firmer texture. They are much more flavorful than white mushrooms, having a richer, earthy taste that activates the umami taste buds. Their flavor has often been referred to as meaty.

Portobello

Portobello mushrooms are actually large crimini mushrooms, and because of the savory meaty flavor have become popular in the last few years. As mushrooms mature, the ring that protects the spores breaks and as a result there is loss of moisture. Young mushrooms contain as much as 80% water, and as they lose water (as portobellos do by having their gills exposed), the savory mushroom flavor is increasingly concentrated.

If you are going to use portobellos in a recipe that has liquid or a sauce, scraping the gills from the mushroom before cooking will keep the sauce from turning black. Some taste will be lost, but there will still be plenty of rich mushroom flavor.

Porcini

Porcinis are known as cèpes in France. These are generally larger flat mushrooms that have a wood brown color on the domed cap. The gills underneath are a white color when fresh and young and turn more yellowish as the mushroom ages. Smaller mushrooms are better, having a more intense flavor.

Fresh porcini are not widely available in the U.S. as they are in the U.K and parts of Europe. Dried porcini are, however, easy to find but expensive. The dried mushroom makes a great flavoring for stocks with an earthy, umami flavor.

Making porcini dust: Simply purchase dried porcini mushrooms and grind them up. I use the mini chopper that came with my stick blender. It takes only a few seconds. Do be careful not to overfill the mini chopper. I did once and the motor on the stick blender overloaded and burned up.

I purchase my mushrooms in the bulk bin. Before you look at the price try to prepare yourself for the sticker shock. This can be as much as $35.00 per pound. That's about $2.00 per ounce and one ounce of dried mushrooms makes 1/4 cup of porcini dust (4 tablespoons). Four tablespoons will go a long way, as it usually takes only about a tablespoon or so to enrich enough pasta or risotto or a sauce for four servings. It's best to keep your mushrooms sealed in a zipper bag (I double bag mine). Don't make any more dust than you need because it will lose flavor quickly.

This works well with any dried mushrooms, but I feel that porcinis have a more true mushroom flavor.

Shiitake Mushrooms

The Japanese suffix “take” means mushroom and the Shiii tree is the tree on which these lovely mushrooms grow naturally. They are indigenous to Korea and Japan and for years were available around the world in dried form but are now widely cultivated and available fresh.

The cap is broad and flat ranging in color from a tan to dark brown. The stems are tough and woody, but they add an earthy flavor to soups and stocks, so don't toss them out. As with all mushrooms, the clear indication of quality is a veil that is still closed on the underside of the cap covering the spores. This shows freshness but also indicates if the mushrooms were rushed in growing. It is hard to find very fresh shiitake mushrooms and most are at least a few days old.

The Japanese have three grades of shiitake - Donko, Koko and Koshin. Donko are higher grade having thick, firm caps, while the lower grade koshin have thin flat caps. Koshin are faster growing and are the more common cultivated strain. Some feel that these mushrooms are not worth purchasing. Koko are intermediate grade.

4 ounces mushrooms = 28 calories, 0g fat, 0g sat fat, 0 mono fat, 3g protein, 0g carbohydrates, 4mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol

Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!

Dr. Gourmet
December 11, 2006