Why is now a good time to eat mushrooms?
Autumn is here, the nights are drawing in, the weather is turning a little colder and we’re all looking for those comfort dishes that evoke a little nostalgia. This could be anything from warm hearty stews to dishes that transport our minds to warmer climes and countries we are longing to travel to.
Mushrooms grow all year round, but autumn is typically known as the season for wild fungi and they are great at adding a depth of flavour to autumnal classics such as stews, sauces and casseroles.
With winter approaching, we’re all looking for new ways to up our nutritional intake. Mushrooms are an ingredient that contain a host of vitamins. All types of edible mushrooms contain protein and fibre along with approximately 15 vitamins and minerals, including folate magnesium, zinc and potassium. The nutritional benefits vary depending on the type of mushroom but generally, they’re a good source of nutrients rich in B vitamins: riboflavin [B2], folate [B9], thiamine [B1], pantothenic acid [B5], and niacin [B3]. As well as containing B vitamins, mushrooms also contain a powerful antioxidant called selenium, which helps to support the immune system and prevent damage to cells and tissues.
What are the best dishes to make with mushrooms?
Meat dishes: Mushrooms have a savoury, umami flavour like meat, so if you’re looking to reduce your meat consumption or add depth of flavour to a dish, they lend themselves to being blended and mixed with meat, or used as a replacement for meat altogether. Chop the mushrooms to match the consistency of ground beef and then blend them into the meat you're cooking. This is an especially quick and easy way to incorporate mushrooms into burgers.
Egg dishes: Cut smaller mushrooms, such as the button variety, and mix into omelettes, quiches or scrambled eggs at breakfast or brunch.
Italian dishes: Sliced into pasta sauces, mushrooms add great flavour and texture. Named after its resemblance to a shell, the oyster mushroom is happy to accompany lots of ingredients – they not only work incredibly well in a stir-fry and rice dishes, but also in pasta.
Asian dishes: Originally from Japan, the shiitake mushroom works well in oriental cooking, eliciting its distinct flavour all around. The shiitake is sensational in sauces, soups and stir-fries. The firm cap and brown meaty flesh are what gives the mushroom its incredible taste. Elsewhere, enoki mushrooms are crisp white mushrooms with long thin stems and tiny white caps. They’re great in soups, stews and salads. Named after the enoki tree that it grows on in Japan, it has a slight crunch and a sweet, fruity flavour.
How should they be stored?
To prolong the freshness of your mushrooms, place them in a paper bag. This will allow the bag to absorb any excess moisture and stop them from getting mouldy. Don’t place your mushrooms near foods with a strong odour; mushrooms absorb aromas like a sponge, which causes them to expire quicker. Storing mushrooms in the original packaging and placing these in the main compartment in the fridge will ensure they last a full week.
Don’t forget that mushrooms can also be frozen. Once in the freezer, they can last for 6-8 months and can be chucked into any dish straight from the frozen – super easy.
Do you like to forage for them?
Foraging has become popular in recent years, but with so many varieties of mushrooms, not all are safe for human consumption, so it’s important to heed caution before dashing out to your nearest woodland. If you are keen on forging for mushrooms, start by searching for a local expert who can give you guidance on where to look and, more importantly, what’s safe to eat.
Have you got a favourite variety?
The portobello mushroom is the one for me – its meaty, chewy texture is a great addition to any meat dish, but it can also be the star of the show on its own. For me, it has all the bases covered: it’s widely available, inexpensive and versatile. Portobello mushrooms have large, rich brown caps with velvety brown gills and are often served as ‘burgers’ or ‘steaks’ because of their meaty texture. They have a deeper, more intense flavour than white or smaller chestnut mushrooms, which makes them great for roasting or baking – simply stuff with cheese and breadcrumbs and bake until tender. Portobello mushrooms become more smokey and earthy when cooked and have a deeper, more intense flavour than white or smaller mushrooms, making them a great addition to the BBQ.
Button mushrooms are sometimes overlooked. But they have a mild earthy taste that can be used in just about anything. They add lots of extra flavour and texture to dishes and work really well sliced into salads. They also pair nicely with poultry and pork, aromatic herbs like thyme, laurel, and parsley and spices like pepper, cumin, and paprika as well as cream, shallots, pasta and pizza. Their flavour intensifies when cooked, making them ideal for sautéing and grilling.
What’s your one top tip when it comes to mushrooms?
If you’re not a fan of the texture of mushrooms, try sautéing them with some olive oil to soften them up before adding them to dishes.
Inspired? Here are five recipes that make mushrooms the star of the show…