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Fantastic Fungi

When I was growing up I did not eat a lot of mushrooms. The ones I did eat came in a can and they tasted good on pizza.Summer 2009When I was growing up I didn’t eat a lot of mushrooms. The ones I did eat came in a can and they tasted good on pizza. I ate a lot of pizza, so by my 20s, I no longer feared   mushrooms. I would add a can to my spaghetti sauce once in a while.

Then I tasted my first fresh mushroom and never looked back. These fantastic fungi taste good raw or cooked. When added to a recipe, they enhance the flavour. Better still, they are filling, low in calories and good for you. They contain potassium, riboflavin, selenium, copper, pantothenic acid and niacin. (One portabella mushroom has more potassium than a banana.)

Fresh Ontario mushrooms are available year-round and are cultivated in a pasteurized substance. Ontario produces more than 50 percent of all mushrooms in Canada. White button is the most common domestic variety.

Of the thousands of mushroom varieties in the world, only about 25 are cultivated. (There are more than 2,000 varieties of mushrooms but 100 that are safe to eat.)

White “button” mushrooms are the most popular in Canada and are available in three different sizes: small “buttons,” medium, and large “jumbo.” The colour of the white mushroom may vary from bright white to an off-white. They have a woodsy flavour that becomes stronger when cooked. They can be used in soups, salads, appetizers, and entrées; a great side dish with any meal.

Crimini “brown” mushrooms are similar to the white mushroom in shape and size but firmer to the touch. The colour ranges from light tan to dark brown. Their meaty and earthy flavour is more intense than the white mushroom. They make a great substitute for white mushrooms in salads, soups and entrées.

Portabellas are fully-grown brown mushrooms, with a large, light tan cap. Portabellas are the largest of all domestic mushrooms.

They can be purchased in bulk, cello-wrapped trays, and sliced. Since they are grown to a large size, Portabella mushrooms lose some moisture, giving them a meaty texture and earthy taste.

They can be grilled, baked, or deep-fried, are great as an appetizer, side dish or entrée. Because of their natural meatiness, Portabella mushrooms are great meat substitutes with no fat, sodium, or cholesterol.

Shiitake mushrooms have a large, fleshy, brown cap, two to four  inches in diameter. They are tan to dark brown in colour, with open veil and tan gills.

They can be purchased in bulk, or packaged in cello-wrapped trays. Shiitakes have a soft, spongy quality, producing a woodsy, meaty flavour and texture when cooked. This mushroom is most commonly used in stir-fry, and pasta meals. Shiitake mushrooms are often used in Asian cultures because of the belief that they have medicinal properties.

Oyster mushrooms have a light to dark brown, funnel-shaped cap, ranging in size from one to four inches with
whitish-yellow gills running up a short off-centre stem. Oyster mushrooms have a delicate, mild flavour with a velvety texture and they can be eaten raw or cooked. Its texture makes it a great complement to chicken, seafood, and pork.

Enoki mushrooms have long, slender white stems with tiny, firm caps. This mushroom has a mild, delicate flavour that is complemented by a slight crunch. Enoki mushrooms can be eaten raw or cooked and are commonly used in Asian cooking, but are also excellent in salads, sandwiches, soups, and pasta sauces.

King oyster mushrooms have a light tan cap with a thick white stem. This stout, thick-fleshed mushroom is pleasantly chewy top to bottom and has the advantage of remaining firm when cooked. The flavour contains a delicate taste of woodsy and sweet.

Rinse lightly in cool water and pat dry just before cooking. Slice the whole mushroom depending on your preference. Adapts well in French, Italian, Mediterranean and Chinese cuisines. It stands up to stir-frying or grilling, becoming golden brown and nicely crisp.

Fresh mushrooms are firm to the touch, have uniform colour and have a slightly shiny surface.  Always keep mushrooms in the refrigerator between the temperatures of 32°F and 36°F (0°C to 2°C).

When mushrooms are purchased loose, they should be stored in a brown paper bag as they will breathe better and stay firm longer.

Packaged mushrooms keep well in the refrigerator, but once opened they should be stored in a brown paper bag.  Mushrooms are best when they are used within a few days of purchase, but can be kept up to one week.

Prior to use, wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth or rinse in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Do not wash mushrooms until you are ready to use them, as they may discolour.


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