Over the past 20 years, the variety of fresh mushrooms found in American supermarket produce sections has increased significantly.
This is partly due to technology. More species are now successfully cultivated, increasing the supply and reducing the cost. Other factors are improved packaging and transportation methods, which make it possible to bring in fungi from around the world.
Nevertheless, white button mushrooms remain the best-selling member of this fungus family. Though they are delicious, Americans hesitant to try more exotic species are missing a lot of great flavor and texture.
Fresh-mushroom varieties most commonly found in supermarket produce sections include:
Button--White, cream or tan. Dome-shaped caps from 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter. Smooth texture. Mild flavor. Cultivated.
Chanterelle--Pronounced shant-uh-REL. Golden to yellow-orange types are most common, but there are also white and black varieties. Resemble a small, curving trumpet. Delicate flavor. Apricot-like aroma. Mainly grow wild in the Pacific Northwest, but some are cultivated.
Enoki--Pronounced eh-NO-kee. White. Long, slender stems with tiny caps. Very delicate flavor. Cultivated. Best used raw, or added to cooked dishes at the last minute.
Italian Brown--Darker-skinned than the button variety they resemble. Slightly sweeter, more intense flavor. Wild and cultivated.
Morel--Brown. Elongated cone shape with spongelike appearance. Rich, earthy flavor. Tender texture. Only grow wild. Can be found fresh at markets in the spring, but this variety is more commonly available dried. Requires careful cleaning.
Oyster--White to almost black varieties. Smooth, fan-shaped cap. Very short, fat stem. Smooth texture. Mild, seafood-like flavor. Wild and cultivated. Angel trumpets, an earthier-tasting hybrid of this variety, are larger and whiter.
Porcini--Also marketed under the French name cepe. Light-brown. Smooth, rounded cap with spongy underside. Thick, meaty stem. Earthy flavor. Grow only wild.
Shiitake--Also known as black forest mushrooms. Brown. Flat, floppy cap. Rich, meaty flavor. Smoky flavor. Woody aroma. Cultivated. Stems are tough and should be discarded during preparation.
Straw--Brown. Umbrella-shaped. Mild flavor. Slippery texture. Cultivated.
Regardless of the variety, select mushrooms that are firm, fresh and plump. They should be blemish-free, with no moist spots. Size is a matter of preference, not quality.
A pound of button mushrooms equals six cups sliced. When cooked, that amount reduces to two cups.
Mushrooms are very perishable. For best quality, store unwashed under refrigeration for only two to three days. Wrap the mushrooms in paper towels or place in a paper, not plastic, bag. Paper allows the fungi to breathe so they stay firm longer; plastic food bags cause them to deteriorate more quickly.
Clean mushrooms with a brush that has soft bristles, or wipe with a damp paper towel. They should not be peeled. If desired, rinse briefly under cold running water, but don't soak. Mushrooms readily absorb water, which destroys their texture. Pat dry with paper towels.
Stems of most varieties are edible. Jst trim and discard the dried, discolored ends. The mushrooms can then be used whole, sliced or chopped.
Fluting with a citrus stripping tool or a paring knife adds an attractive touch to button mushroom caps.
With the stripper and a gentle touch, begin at the center of the cap and carve parallel, evenly spaced vertical grooves. Caps can be cut on the diagonal for a spiral effect.
If using a knife, hold the blade at a slight angle and cut "V"-shaped grooves in a similar manner.
* WARNING: Some wild mushroom varieties are toxic and can be deadly. Never consume any wild fungus unless it has been positively identified as safe by a knowledgeable mushroom hunter.