One of the first questions I ask a fellow foodie is “Do you like mushrooms?”
If their answer is yes, we often relate our cooking and hunting stories like fishermen swapping whopper tales. Especially with the flush of morels we’ve had recently in Idaho’s wildfire burn areas, I have heard of a lot of success stories and new places to try.
But if they answer no, more times than not their distaste comes from the Agaricus bisporus, or the bland, white button mushroom you can get at the grocery store. Did you know that that species is the most flavorless edible mushroom and yet is the most widely grown commercially? Yuck. No wonder there are people out there who hate mushrooms.
I think some folks who hate mushrooms are fungiphobes because they haven’t had the life-changing experience of eating a delicious wild mushroom prepared in a tasty dish. Some wild mushrooms have flavor undertones of apricots and walnuts, or smell of meaty-earthiness or light creamy nuttiness.
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Some mushrooms are firm and hold up well to high-heat cooking; others are light and soft and cream well into soups. You can par-cook and freeze them, dehydrate them or even pickle them.
They are so widely different, in color, texture and flavor, but also in edibility and toxicity. Which may be a reason many fear them.
But with some knowledge and a friend who can guide you, a whole world of edible fungi, and cooking, can open to you.
A word of caution: sometimes you can have limited success on a hunt, as was the case with me last weekend after finding only one morel and one large coral. If that’s the case, or if you aren’t that into trips into the wilds, pick up some fresh wild mushrooms throughout the summer at your local farmers market or try the dried varieties at the grocer. Just leave those white buttons alone.
Lindsie Bergevin: 208-377-6416
Fungi finding tips
Only pick what you can 100 percent identify: Many species have look-alikes that, without the help of an expert and/or a spore print, can be dangerous or even deadly to eat. So if you don’t know it, don’t touch it. Some species are fairly easy to spot, like morels, boletes and corals. They are great mushrooms to start with.
Go with someone who knows: Join SIMA on a foray or at a local class and meet other mushroom enthusiasts who can teach you in a hands-on learning environment.
Find the fresh ones: “Only pick good, fresh specimens,” says SIMA president Genille Steiner. “If you are going to eat them, be careful. Only cook fresh, young edible mushrooms. If they are old and wormy, or starting to smell bad, don’t eat it. It’s like any other food. You can poison yourself.”
Cut, not pull: Mushrooms grow as the fruiting body of mycelia, or spores, that form an underground fungal network all over the world. If you cut the mushroom at the base, close to the ground, this leaves the mycelia intact and allows it to grow another mushroom soon after.
Try wild mushrooms in...
Scrambled eggs: Saute mushrooms in a little butter, then add eggs. This lets the flavor of the mushroom really come through.
Breakfast hash: Saute up with eggs, onion, ham, potatoes and top with cheese.
Pasta: Best added to dishes with a mild cream sauce. Marinara tends to overpower the mushroom’s flavor.
Soups and stews: Chop and add to soup as you begin to boil. Dehydrated mushrooms can be added directly to soups without reconstituting.
Sauteed in butter as a side to any meal.
Tip: Be sure to thoroughly clean and cook all wild mushrooms before eating. Raw mushrooms contain a small amount of toxins that are destroyed upon cooking. Thoroughly cooking also releases the nutrients they contain, including protein, B vitamins and minerals, as well as a wide range of novel compounds not found in other foods.
Get a good field guide
SIMA president Genille Steiner recommends the following resources:
“North American Mushrooms: A Field Guide To Edible And Inedible Fungi” by Dr. Orson K. Miller, Jr. and Hope H. Miller (Falconguide)
“Mushrooms Demystified” by David Arora (Ten Speed Press)
“Ascomycete Fungi of North America: A Mushroom Reference Guide” by Michael Beug, Alan E. Bessette, Arleen R. Bessette (University of Texas Press)
MatchMaker Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest: Free identification software by Ian Gibson. Available for PC, Mac, smartphone and web version. MatchmakerMushrooms.com
Join the hunt
One of the best places to learn about mushrooms is to meet up with the Southern Idaho Mycological Association. The group meets at 7:30 p.m. the second Monday of each month, October through May, at Idaho Fish and Game Department, 600 S. Walnut St., Boise.
They also have outings in June and September. Registration is closed for their upcoming Spring Foray June 3-5 in McCall, but spots are open for the mushroom identification classes at 9:30 a.m. June 6, 7 and 8 at Ponderosa State Park. Please preregister by contacting Genille Steiner at email@example.com. Find more info at simykos.net/.
Wild Mushroom Stroganoff
Recipe by Lindsie Bergevin and Jothan Yeager, The Bald Gourmet. Makes 4 servings.
2-3 cups wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1/2 onion, chopped small
1/3 cup cooking sherry or port
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons paprika
¼ teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 lb beef, sirloin/round/cut of your choice
1/3 cup sour cream
2-3 green onions, sliced
Salt and pepper
Over medium heat, saute mushrooms and onions in olive oil and butter until softened and most of the water has been released and starts to thicken in the pan. Transfer mixture to a bowl and increase heat to medium high. Add whole beef steaks to pan, season with salt and pepper and brown a minute or two on each side. Cook until medium or medium well. Don’t overcook steaks. Remove from pan and set aside on a plate.
Return mushrooms and onions to the pan and lower heat to medium. Add garlic and thyme and saute a minute more until fragrant. Watch the heat so that the fond doesn’t burn.
Add wine to deglaze, scraping up the fond (the browned bits of goodness) and mixing it into everything. Add cream, paprika, onion powder and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. It is OK if it tastes a little salty at this point. Once it is served over noodles or rice, the saltiness will dissipate.
Slice the steak into thin strips across the grain. Add to the pan to finish cooking for a few more minutes. The sauce should cook down and thicken into a velvety, caramel color. Stir in sour cream.
Serve over egg noodles or brown rice/wild rice combo. Garnish with green onions.
Cheese and Bacon Stuffed Mushrooms
Thanks to my colleague at the Statesman, Vicki Ross, for this delicious recipe. Makes enough to fill 2 dozen small mushrooms.
1/2 cup (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup Mexican-style shredded Four Cheese
1 package real bacon bits
2 tablespoons green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound small fresh mushrooms you can stuff, such as baby Portobello, bolete buttons or morel
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine all ingredients except mushrooms. Spoon into mushrooms. Place, filled-sides up, on baking sheet. Sprinkle with extra cheese, bacon and cilantro. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.
Wild Mushroom and Rice Gratin
Recipe adapted by Lindsie Bergevin from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Makes 8-12 servings.
5 cups cooked rice (from 1 cup wild rice and ¾ cup brown rice)
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 ½ lb fresh wild mushrooms, cleaned and chopped OR 1 lb dried mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 cups kale leaves (from an 8 oz. bundle), destemmed and sliced into thin ribbons
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
10 oz (3 cups grated) Swiss cheese
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup heavy cream
3/4 cup fine, dry Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 375 F. Start the rice, bringing it to boil with 5 cups water. Once boiling, cover and reduce to medium-low and set timer for 45 minutes. The rest of the recipe can easily be completed while the rice is cooking.
Caramelize the onions by heating 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and a little pepper and cook until they’re tender and sweet, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
Saute half of them in another skillet with 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil until they release their moisture and the water evaporates. Season with salt and pepper and sauté a minute more, then add to the skillet with the onions. Repeat with other half. If using dried mushrooms, saute for a few minutes only after reconstituting. Use broth from reconstituting the mushrooms in place of the chicken broth.
To the onion/mushroom mixture, add rosemary and the kale ribbons and cook until they wilt a bit, about 5 minutes. Stir together the onion-mushroom-kale mixture, wild rice and 2 cups grated cheese in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spread the wild rice mixture into a 2-quart (or 9-by-13-inch) baking dish. Mix the broth and cream together in a small cup and pour over wild rice mixture. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top. Toss breadcrumbs with 1 tablespoon melted butter and sprinkle over cheese.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a little bubbly and beginning to brown on top.