More and more these days, we are able to access wild mushrooms. Foraging is in a full-fledged revival. Home mushroom cultivation with logs and mulch beds is becoming a standard amongst homesteaders. Farmers’ markets frequently feature at least one booth with little cartoons of funny-looking fungi to sample.
By all means, people should take advantage and enjoy the wonderful flavors, textures, colors, aromas of wild mushrooms. The fungi kingdom opens a wide world of culinary options for those willing to enter it. And, despite the Western tendency towards mycophobia, mushrooms aren’t any more or less dangerous than plants (or animals).
That said, before bringing wild (or home-cultivated) edible mushrooms into the kitchen, it’s good to know a few things.
Know What You Are Eating
Responsibly and knowledgeably harvested wild mushrooms are safe to eat, but it is important to understand and identify exactly what mushroom is going on the plate.
- For those harvesting themselves, it is non-negotiable that all fungi are 100% verified as edible before eating them. This isn’t that difficult for many species, but it does require some homework and experience.
- For those buying at markets, it is advisable that you still do your due diligence to know what a vendor has sold you. Ask for identifying features of the mushroom so that you can understand. Maybe even do a little research at home.
Also, as we are about to get into, different mushrooms—like different vegetables or grains—require different cooking measures for the best results. Knowing what you’ve got will help with knowing how to cook it.
Don’t Wash Them
In addition to mycophobia, we are also a society prone to germaphobia, so we have the tendency to wash and disinfect everything. Most mushrooms, however, don’t respond well to this. They tend to absorb the water, and in turn, they lose the flavor and texture that make them so delicious. The basic rule with wild mushrooms is to brush them clean. Foragers will often have a special brush on their cutting tool, but the same function can be performed with a stiff paintbrush or even paper towel.
Do Cook Wild Mushrooms
Though raw button mushrooms have become somewhat normal, mushrooms are not really supposed to be eaten raw. Many experts suggest that even button mushrooms need to be cooked before they are eaten. While the raw button mushroom debate rages on, what we do know is that mushrooms often have toxins that disappear when heated. Often our digestive system is not equipped to handle them. This is especially true for foraged field and forest mushrooms. Wild mushrooms should be cooked before consumption.
Taste Test for Safety
Different wild mushrooms, no matter how delicious, can have different effects on different people’s digestive systems and other internal workings. In short, it’s important to sample a small portion of any new type of mushroom prior to gorging on it. That way, if you happen to be unlucky, the reaction will be mild and tolerable. Some of the best wild mushrooms, such as morel, don’t agree with a small portion of eaters, not unlike peanuts or gluten or garlic. When trying new mushrooms, have a little taste and wait 48 hours before cooking up the rest.
How to Best Cook Your Wild Mushrooms
When fungi are actually put to the fire, things can get a little more complicated. Some popular mushrooms—chanterelles, for example—are best cooked up in a flash whereas others, like chicken of the woods or maitake mushrooms, can withstand much more. In general, they can all be sautéed in a little oil or even dry-fried in a skillet. Many varieties, particularly meaty mushrooms, work well grilled, stewed, deep-fried, and tucked into casseroles.
There are many different ways to prepare wild mushrooms, but for the most part, simpler is better. Most wild mushrooms we find in markets will be there because they are prized edibles. This means they are worthy of appreciating on their own merits, as a featured ingredient. However, once they have been duly appreciated, find some recipes online and experiment:
- Chanterelle Mushroom Butter
- Morel Mushrooms with Butternut Squash Pasta
- Mushroom Carnitas Tacos with Cilantro Lime Crema (Using maitake/hen of the woods)
- Beer Battered Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms
- Caramelized Onion Cheese Dip with Shiitake Bacon
- Oyster Mushrooms Po’ boy
- Trumpet Mushroom “Calamari”
Go Wild for Wild Mushrooms
For many, the obstacle of our upbringings is just too much to overcome, and the ingrained fear of wild mushrooms will prevent them from enjoying or even trying these delicacies. They can stick with portabellas and white mushrooms from the supermarket. For the rest of us, well, aren’t we lucky! That just leaves more wild mushrooms for us.
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