Mushrooms come in all shapes and sizes. There are about 38,000 varieties in the world, with 3,000 of those growing in England. However, only about a hundred of them are edible, with twenty being seriously harmful – even fatal. With these odds, it is not very recommendable to go out foraging in the woods for mushrooms on your own. Everyone should have a go if they can, but make sure you have somebody with you who knows what they’re doing. It’s such a great way to spend a few hours.
If you are keen to go foraging for yourself, find a local expert or check on the internet to see if there’s a local mushroom-picking society near you. Learn as much as you can, but remember that you don’t have to know about every single mushroom. As long as you can recognise a few simple varieties that can’t be mistaken for dangerous ones and you stay within your comfort zone, you’ll be all right.
Most supermarkets now sell a great selection of farmed mushrooms: delicious varieties like chestnut, field, shiitake and oyster. Punnets of mixed wild mushrooms are also available to buy and include varieties like chanterelles, morels, pieds de mouton and trompettes des morts. And then, of course, there are dried mushrooms like morels and porcini, which add an incredible, smoky flavour to dishes, so it’s definitely worth keeping a pack of these in the cupboard.
Not only are mushrooms delicious but they also contain a similar vitamin mix to meat, making them a great substitute. They are high in fibre and protein and contain loads of minerals that are good for you, including selenium, which can help reduce the risk of cancer. They should definitely be part of your five-a-day!
The most common type, white mushrooms range in size from tiny—called button, which are harvested when young and have the mildest flavor—to jumbo, which can be stuffed and baked. Creamy white to pale tan, they have a firm texture and a delicate flavour.
Velvety and trumpet-shaped, oyster mushrooms have delicate brown, gray, or reddish caps on gray-white stems. They have a peppery flavour that becomes very mild when cooked. Young, small specimens are considered the best.
Up to 6 inches across, portobellos have a big, steak-like taste and texture; in fact, the huge, umbrella-like caps are often eaten as vegetarian burger substitutes. Remove the woody stems before eating.
With meaty tan to dark-brown umbrella-like caps, shiitakes have a distinctively smoky flavour and taste best when cooked. Available fresh or dried, they work well in stir-fries as the flavour doesn’t fade next to ginger and garlic. Although the stems are too tough to eat and should be removed from the heads before cooking, you can use them to flavour stocks and sauces before discarding.
Similar to white mushrooms but with a firmer texture and deeper flavour, creminis are actually immature portobellos. The button-like caps range from pale tan to rich brown. The stems are edible.
Prized for a fruity aroma, chanterelles range from yellow, orange, and brown to pale white or black. The funnel-shaped caps have wrinkles instead of gills on the underside, which should be washed quickly but carefully before using.