Wow, somehow a year went by since my last post! I was heartened to see that folks are still checking in on the blog despite the sad lack of content.
We just began our first Mushroom Farm Share. Also known as CSA (community supported agriculture), however it doesn’t quite fit the bill since we aren’t sharing any risk AKA, you’re guaranteed mushrooms in your box! Outdoor vegetable farmers are way more subject to the whims of nature, so the true CSA model where members share both bounty and risk is essential to small, sustainable growers.
If you’re in Philly, shares are still available! Pickup from W/N W/N or get 3 friends to join up with you and we’ll deliver to your door!
In preparing materials for our Share members, I searched the web for a good resource for Mushroom Cooking Tips. After all, a cremini, a pom pom, and a chanterelle each demands a unique approach in the kitchen. So for the beginning of our Culinary Tour of Mushrooms, I will offer some of my general tips for cooking mushrooms. I am not a chef, so if you have corrections or additional tips, please comment!
1) Always Cook Mushrooms! The cooking process not only liberates the medicinal and nutritional compounds from the chitin structure of the mushroom, but it usually develops the flavor and cooks out hydrazine, which is a really good idea. The only exception I would consider is when preparing intensly-flavored mushrooms via another method, ie, smoking or pickling. Even this one exception only goes for mushrooms that aren’t known for causing issues- and there is still a lot of individual variation in this area. I’ve had scrumptious pickled raw pioppini from W/N W/N and divine smoked raw nameko from Kensington Quarters, but each was only a tiny quantity. A tiny nibble of raw black trumpets I feel provides a nice energy boost and mild euphoria akin to Ginseng. Researchers please look into this!
2) Don’t wash mushrooms, for the most part. Our mushrooms are grown without any chemicals in a clean environment. It is unnecessary to wash our mushrooms, and washing in fact can cause mushrooms to absorb water, making proper cooking more difficult. Washing pom poms is pretty much a deal breaker.
3) If preparing mushrooms in any method that doesn’t involve immersion in liquid, you want to use a healthy amount of fat. Healthy as in “plenty.” Some fat is extremely healthy when consumed in reasonable quantities. The average French citizen has a healthier heart than the average American, despite eating more butter. The key is using “good” butter. That is, butter from pastured cows on a mainly grass diet. This kind of butter is more yellow and contains much more Conjugated Linoelic Acid than grain-fed dairy products that literally pale in comparison. Cultured, grass-fed, butter is as as good as it gets. If you’re pickling mushrooms, steaming them, or adding directly to stocks and broths, you can leave out the fat
4) Mushrooms need salt! Salt is a cofactor for the binding of many flavors onto taste receptors on the tongue. The flavors in mushrooms largely fall into the camp. Mushrooms contain high amounts of free nucleotides that activate umami receptors on the tongue. This gives them their sometimes meaty flavor. It also explains while adding mushrooms to a dish can enhance the flavor of the entire dish while the actual mushrooms in the dish may taste rather mild.
5) If cooking in oil, you want to achieve a nice caramelization in most cases. This is the sugars in the mushroom undergoing a complex series of transformations known collectively as the “Maillard Reaction.” It will add sweetness and complexity to your dishes, as well as provide coloration for sauces and broths. It also seems to enhance the unique flavor profiles of each variety. The exception to this rule for Mycopolitan mushroom varieties is the Pioppino mushroom, which benefits from light-as-possible cooking.
6) Think White Wine. White wine works as a deglazing liquid as well as a pairing choice, for most mushrooms. Dry Sherry is liquor made by further aging and concentrating White Wine, and is also a nice choice for mushrooms that can handle the stronger flavor of sherry. Asian cooking wines, sake, rice wines are also nice deglazers in Asian-inspired dishes. In general, red wines outshine the often subtle flavors of mushrooms, but reds can still work. Pioppino mushrooms can handle a bit of red wine, as well as agaricus mushrooms.
7) Monitor Moisture. If you’re sauteeing, grilling, or using any cooking technique that exposes mushrooms to dry/hot air, you will want to carefully control moisture level. This can be the trickiest aspect of myco-gastronomy because mushrooms vary considerably in moisture level, even between different batches of the same varieties. Mushrooms that are on the drier side will soak up fat from your pan. When sauteeing musrhooms on the dry side especially, you’ll want your pan to be nice and hot before adding fat and sautéing. You’ll also want to keep a lid on the pan until you see the mushrooms begin to sweat out what moisture they have, and you’ll want to avoid moving the mushrooms around before caramelization occurs. Once caramelization occurs, you can stir. Then let them sit in the hot fat. If you feel like you have too much oil or butter in your finished mushrooms, you can usually squeeze it out by hand (cook your eggs in that fat- there’s good flavor there!). Squeezing excess fat is preferable to starting with less fat.
On the other side of the spectrum you have very wet mushrooms. One technique for dealing with excess moisture is called a “dry sauté” which you can find explained online. I prefer to use a somewhat counter-intuitive approach to removing excess water. Like most overly-dry mushrooms, many overly-wet mushrooms can be sautéed with lid on. While this keeps the moisture trapped in the pan, it also allows big pieces to cook through more quickly, thereby releasing water. Once this process has begun, remove the lid, turn up the heat, and stir until much of the water evaporates.
In short, the Lid is an important tool for cooking mushrooms. Consider it your moisture shield and cooking-expediter.
Stay tuned next week for the first recipe!