Mushrooms are not a particularly nutritious food, but few people are thinking of nutrition when they bite into a perfectly prepared specimen. They are high in protein compared to other vegetables, but in an absolute sense, they are still a low-protein food. They contain lots of vitamins B2 and B3, a significant amount potassium and a moderate amount of phosphorous.
The mushroom’s job is to add flavor, texture, eye appeal and richness to a dish or plate of food, not nutrition. Western cuisines tend to use mushrooms mainly for flavor, although the subtle mushroom texture is an important part of many dishes that don’t require long cooking.
In Oriental cooking, their texture and ability to absorb other flavors from the liquid are more crucial. Japanese cuisine in particular adore mushrooms for both flavor and texture. That is why the cultivation of so many flavorful mushrooms originated in Japan.
Mushrooms add a chewiness that is pleasing even if the flavoring effect is modest using milder mushrooms. In fact, some of the dried Chinese mushrooms match tofu in blandness, but cooks use them extensively for texture, color and to absorb the flavor of the sauces.
The mushroom’s very pretty, appealing shape in food presentation has made it even more trendy among contemporary cooks and chefs, particularly in white tablecloth restaurants
So what type of mushrooms should you use in your cooking? If you have an unlimited kitchen budget, use fresh black truffles ($1300 a pound or $3000 a kilo) and morels from France. They will be a sure hit among your guests, particularly if you can weave their cost into the dinner conversation.
But most of us work with a more limited kitchen budget in which the other end of the spectrum is the more likely scenario, even considering to rescue the mushrooms on the “reducedfor- quick-sale” shelf of the supermarket.
For most everyday cooking, fresh button mushrooms are perfectly adequate. When you want to splurge a little, one of the more common exotic types is a nice addition to your menu.
Remember, a little mushroom goes a long way. Two ounces (55 g) of an exotic mushroom per person is plenty to get the full benefit of mushrooms when you mix it with other ingredients in a side dish. So 1 pound (half a kilo) serves 8 guests-not an outrageous expenditure for an elegant meal.
To make the price even more reasonable, mix the exotic mushrooms with button mushrooms half and half. You will still get the flavor and visual impact of the exotic mushrooms. You can also blend fresh button mushrooms with dried reconstituted exotic mushrooms for their added flavor. Use 1 or 2 ounces (30 or 55 g) of dried mushroom for every pound (half kilo) of fresh mushrooms.
Mature mushrooms are always more flavorful than younger ones. Both the umbrella shape and the deepening color of the “ripe” spores indicate a mature mushroom. Don’t use quite as much of a mature specimen as you do the same mushroom in the button stage.
A flavorful exotic species like the chanterelle goes with any robust, full-flavored dish, while the milder exotics, like the oyster mushroom, are better with mild-flavored food, particularly seafood.
Some mushrooms are perfect for garnishing to add visual impact, such as the enoki. Their size and blandness are hopelessly lost among the other ingredients, but they look great as a garnish.
You may also use mushrooms raw in salads. They add visual impact to the dish with their pretty-shaped cross-section when thinly-sliced. But uncooked mushrooms are almost flavorless. Marinated or pickled, they readily absorb the flavor of the liquid in which they are soaked, thanks to their spongy flesh. A marinated mushroom retains its crunchiness, too, making it great hors d’oeuvres to serve with toothpicks.
How much mushroom should you count on for each serving? Mushrooms are 92 percent water so with cooking they shrink considerably as heat evaporates much of that moisture. Generally, a 4-ounce (110-g) serving is an adequate size when mushroom is a side dish, but for a more generous serving increase that to 5 ounces (140 g).
When it is the main ingredient of a mushroom dish, such as a mushroom stroganoff and mushroom stew, increase it to 6 or 6 1/ 2 ounces (170 or 185 g). For hors d’oeuvres as marinated mushrooms, count on everyone taking anywhere from 2 to 5 buttons, depending on their size and what else you are offering