Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

A kitchen staple which should be always at hand to slice for a garnish, add to a salad, give a wonderful flavour to meat, chicken, fish, eggs and vegetables or to serve as a savoury dish in its own right, mushrooms complement both robust and delicate flavours, and their pretty shape can add much to the appearance of a dish.

Not really vegetables but edible fungi, mushrooms were once a luxury but the highly efficient mushroom-growing industry has put them on everyone’s table all year round at a reasonable price. All cooks prize them for their versatility and flavour, from the pearly whites to the larger brown flats. There are many new mushrooms with a wild taste and different textures finding their way into our supermarkets and onto greengrocers’ shelves. Oyster mushrooms, which grow upwards on a log like oysters; fresh strongly flavoured shiitake (once only available dried from China); wood-ear fungus: each has its own texture, shape and flavour. Slippery jacks, Swiss browns and pretty bunches of enoki are also worth looking for. Use them freely in soups and stir-fries, and mix them up when making a delicious risotto or pasta sauce.

Fresh cultivated mushrooms are supplied in three grades.

Button mushrooms: Also known by their French name, champignons, button mushrooms are completely closed. They are attractive in salads or as a garnish and do not darken when cooked, so are perfect for pale, creamy dishes.

Cup mushrooms: These have the membrane just breaking to expose the pink gills. They darken a little when cooked but can be kept pale if brushed with lemon juice. They are good for stuffing and for cooking in general.

Flat mushrooms: These are excellent grilled (broiled), served on toast or in brown soups and casseroles; because they darken with cooking, they can give a grey cast to pale dishes.

Buy mushrooms in quantities you will use within a few days. Store, lightly covered with damp paper towels or in a paper bag or box, in the refrigerator. Avoid plastic wrap or plastic bags which can cause mushrooms to sweat.

Basic preparation: Do not peel cultivated mushrooms. The skin contains much of the flavour and nutritive value; it also helps them to stay in shape during cooking and reduces darkening. Only large, mature wild mushrooms may need peeling; keep the peelings for stock or soup.

Washing or soaking introduces excess water which the mushrooms absorb like a sponge. Cultivated mushrooms need only a wipe with a soft cloth before using. If you must wash wild mushrooms, rinse them quickly and dry well. Do not wipe or cut mushrooms until shortly before using. If they are to be used raw, brush cut surfaces with lemon juice to keep them white.

Trim stems on the diagonal, just beyond the cap, if mushrooms are to be used whole, halved or quartered. Cut stems level with caps if mushrooms are to be sliced downwards into little umbrella shapes, or if they are to be stuffed and cooked (the stem helps to keep the shape). Remove stems by twisting, if directed by recipe, but keep all stems and trimmings for stock, soup or sauces.

To prepare dried mushrooms: Soak in hot water to cover for 20–30 minutes, depending on size. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels, then use as recipe directs. The soaking water is often used in the dish, or may be added to stock or soup.

To make turned or fluted mushrooms: Choose very white mushrooms. Hold rounded side up and with a small, sharp, pointed knife make deep swirling cuts from the centre of the mushroom cap down to the edge. The slivered peeling falls off to reveal the petal-like shape. Use as a garnish for main course dishes.

To cook: Mushrooms may be sautéed, grilled (broiled) or added to stews, casseroles and sauces.

Sautéed mushrooms: Mushrooms absorb fat in cooking and this can make them soggy. They also release juice and become soft if heat is too low or they are cooked too long. For firm, goldenbrown mushrooms, use just enough melted butter, good quality oil or a mixture of both, to cover the bottom of the pan. Heat until it begins to give off a slight haze, add prepared mushrooms and cook briskly without turning, shaking pan gently once or twice, for about 1 minute. Turn and brown other side, then add a little more butter or oil if necessary and toss mushrooms for 1 minute more. Do not crowd the pan, and cook in batches if necessary. Do not cover those mushrooms which are already cooked; when they are all done, return them to the pan, toss on high heat for moments only and serve immediately.

Grilled mushrooms: Wipe with a cloth wrung out in water with a little lemon juice added. Brush with oil or melted butter and place under a preheated grill (broiler), skin side uppermost. Cook for about 2 minutes, turn and brush again with butter or oil, and cook for another 2 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with grilled steak, chops, bacon or tomatoes, or on toast.

Cooked in liquid: Mushrooms become heavy if cooked too long in liquid, so add to stews or casseroles towards the end of cooking time. Sliced or small whole mushrooms may be simmered for a few minutes in a little acidulated water to make them firm and white before adding to delicate sauces or using as a garnish.

Duxelles: A concentrated mushroom paste that will keep well in the refrigerator – a good way of using up mushrooms that might not keep, or leftover stems and peelings.

Ways to use duxelles:

Add a spoonful to soups, stews and other dishes when a mushroom flavour is wanted.

Mix with sour cream for an omelette filling or with a Béchamel Sauce to stuff crêpes.

Mix with a little cream and put some into each ramekin in which you are baking eggs.

Mix with cooked rice or buttered breadcrumbs and chopped herbs to stuff meat.

Mix 125 g duxelles with 90 g softened cream cheese and enough cream to make it spreadable. Spoon into baked tartlet shells, sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and bake in a preheated moderate oven for 5 minutes.

Put a teaspoonful of duxelles into the middle of hamburgers.


Quantity Ingredient
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