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Mushroom Maximalist

Cooking with the many varieties of these earthy, meaty, and incredibly versatile fungi is more exciting than ever.

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Portobellos are a gateway mushroom. They are the mushrooms that we eat as burgers, fill with sauce and cheese and transform into pizza, toss into pastas and sautées, and if you’re really under their spell, then you might be gently smoking them, turning them into broths, all the while considering how to work them into the next meal. I’ve prepared portobello mushrooms all these ways over my cooking life, and I’ve become certain of one thing: There isn’t anything a mushroom can’t do.

While portobellos remain my go-to mushroom— they’re almost a pantry item at this point—the current cast of fungi hanging out in my fridge has expanded to include many new friends. Now a box of oyster mushrooms is stashed on the shelf, tuffets of maitake make an appearance, little trumpet mushrooms straight out of a fairy tale rotate in and out, and pints of creminis—those baby bellas—are always in my grocery cart. Having all these around means mushrooms end up in most of my cooking, bringing their unique flavors and textures to every dish. Keeping mushrooms on hand and cooking generously with them has led me to take a mushroom-maximalist approach to cooking. Now I ask: What mushroom should I use when thinking about roast chicken (maitake) or a decadent weekend brunch (smoky creminis)?

The variety of mushrooms you can find at grocery stores, food co-ops, and farmers markets will delight you. Next to our old friend the portobello, you’ll find everything from golden oyster mushrooms (they cook up so savory and crispy with a little oil or butter) to the sweet pillowy texture of trumpet mushrooms. When I’m looking for the jumbo-size King Oyster mushrooms—ideal for slicing into fat steaks—I head straight to my local Asian market, where the selection of mushrooms expands to include shiitakes, delicate strands of enoki, and sweet and crispy beech.

Embracing the versatility mushrooms bring to our cooking lives begins with having them around. You’ll find yourself constantly seeking out the savory satisfaction they bring to every meal. If you begin to wonder what to do with them next, let this collection of recipes offer some answers.

Meet Your Mushrooms

(Clockwise from top right)

Maitake: With a semi-firm texture and rich woodsy flavor, this golden, frilly fungus is a showstopper.

King Oyster: Also called king trumpet, this variety is prized for its thick, meaty stem.

Portobello: The large round caps have a meatlike texture and flavor, making them popular among vegetarians.

Enoki: These clumps of stems look like spaghetti, and the mushrooms have an appealing, crunchy texture and almost fruity bite.

Cremini: Also known as baby bellas, these dark brown all-purpose mushrooms have a meatier flavor than buttons.

Button: The most common grocery store variety has a mild earthiness, making it extremely versatile.

Porcini: Tinged with a reddish-brown color, these round-capped mushrooms have an aromatic, woodsy flavor.

Shiitake: A distinct cap–like an umbrella–tops this Asian cooking staple that has a slightly smoky flavor.

 

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