Cooking with Mushrooms

exotic mushrooms

Mushrooms are exotic, multifarious, and unlike any other food on the planet. Let’s unpack the magic, myths, and fun facts about these delicious outliers; they’re one of my favorite fall ingredients. (I’m sharing plenty of mushroom recipes, too.)

wild mushrooms with hazelnuts

Mushrooms are unique in the world of culinary ingredients

They don’t belong to the plant or animal kingdom ~ fungi are a separate class of life form that brings an exciting range of textures and flavors to our cooking. And there’s something about fall that brings out the mushroom lover in me.

The wide world of of mushrooms is well worth exploring if you’ve only ever had the little white buttons from the supermarket (which are great, too!)

Mushroom and Gruyere Bruschetta, sliced on a board

Fresh mushrooms

  • The mushrooms you’ll find in the produce aisle are cultivated mushrooms (aka, mushrooms that can be grown commercially.) The most common are ceminis (brown and white) portobellos, and shiitakes. Some larger stores carry more exotic varieties, but even the little button mushrooms work great in recipes like my simple mushroom and cheese bruschetta and my hummus with mushrooms. I tend to prefer the brown over the white, but that’s personal preference.
  • It’s tempting to buy the convenient packages of sliced mushrooms, but resist. Whole mushrooms are fresher and easy to slice at home.
  • Fresh mushrooms should be stored in the fridge but don’t wrap them tightly in plastic, they need air circulation to keep from spoiling. Keep them in their original wrapping, or in a breathable wrapping like a paper bag in the crisper drawer. If you must use plastic, leave it open on one side.
  • Plan on using fresh mushrooms asap, before they get spotted and slimy.

A packet of dried mushrooms for Pasta with Wild Mushrooms and Hazelnuts

Dried mushrooms

  • Dried mushrooms come in all types, even exotic and wild varieties, so you can have a lot of fun with them.
  • Dried mushrooms are usually sold in little plastic packets, and they can sometimes be hard to spot, so ask if you have trouble finding them.
  • Dried mushrooms need to be reconstituted in hot water or broth before using ~ don’t just toss them into your soup or stew as is! Give them a soak of about 30 minutes and then you can use them.
  • Yes, you can use the soaking broth, but I like to strain it through cheesecloth first to remove dust and grit.
  • I usually plan on slicing or dicing dried mushrooms because even after soaking they will be extra chewy.
  • Use dried mushrooms when you’re looking for deep earthy mushroom flavor and a distinctly chewy texture. I love to use dried mushrooms in my wild mushroom risotto.

re-hydrating dried wild mushrooms

How to wash fresh mushrooms

  • Despite what you may have heard, rinsing mushrooms in a little water is perfectly fine and shouldn’t make them soggy once cooked. You don’t want to soak them in water for long periods of time, but rinsing off the dirt that often clings to them is often the easiest way to get them clean quickly, especially if your mushrooms are very dirty.
  • You can also buy a mushroom brush, or use a soft dish towel to gently brush the dirt away.

Is the dirt on cultivated mushrooms dangerous?

  • That black stuff isn’t really dirt at all, it’s ‘growing  medium’. And according to, that is most often sterilized peat moss, so if you don’t get every speck, it isn’t really an issue.

wild mushroom and hazelnut baked brie

My favorite mushroom cooking technique (dry sauté)

If you hate limp grey soggy mushrooms like I do, you’ll love this easy technique for coaxing the best flavor from fresh mushrooms.

The secret is not to use oil or butter when you sauté mushrooms.

Put them directly into a pan (don’t crowd them) and cook over medium to medium high heat, stirring or tossing often.

They’ll first release their moisture (they’ll shrink down,) and then they’ll start to brown.

When cooked this way mushrooms stay firm and develop fantastic flavor ~ try it!

sautéing mushrooms

Flavors that pair well with mushrooms ~

Even though mushrooms are outliers in the flavor world, not related to any others on the flavor map ~ their unique umami personality play well with others like fresh herbs, nuts, and cheese. They can also help enhance milder, creamy dishes with their delicious flavor. Try pairing mushrooms with ~

  • herbs like sage, thyme, and rosemary are commonly paired with mushrooms, but my favorite has to be sage (check out wild mushroom pasta with hazelnuts and sage.)
  • flavorful cheeses like parmesan, cheddar, gruyere bring out the best in mushrooms. Even creamy mozzarella loves mushrooms ~ the proof’s in this pizza recipe!
  • nuts like hazelnuts and walnuts bring out the earthy qualities in mushrooms, and give a nice textural contrast to dishes like my wild mushroom and hazelnut baked Brie.
  • cream and creamy cheeses like Brie, mascarpone, and goat cheese emphasize the luxurious side of fungi. My mushroom and Brie soup is a good illustration of that!
  • spirits like white wine and fortified wines like Sherry, Vermouth, and Marsala are absolute joys with mushrooms. You can get instant restaurant quality flavor by combining any of them with mushrooms in a sauce. Chicken Marsala is a classic example. And you’ll definitely taste the cognac in my Wild Mushroom Soup.
  • bacon, surprisingly, goes fabulously with mushrooms. Test the theory with this Chopped Steak with Bacon and Mushroom Gravy. ‘Nuff said.

Instant Pot wild mushroom risotto

fave mushroom recipes ~

List style, in case you don’t want to hunt and peck through the post…

Pasta with wild mushrooms and hazelnuts in a skillet with large spoon

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    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    December 4, 2020 at 5:29 am

    Hi loved reading this post , as I now live in turkey and we get lots of wild mushrooms.
    Morals are very nice . What would you say is the best way to cook them . Thanks

    • Reply
      December 4, 2020 at 7:18 am

      You’re so lucky Terry, foraging for mushrooms is such fun, especially in an area where you can actually find lots. I don’t have a lot of experience with morels, but I do know they need a really thorough washing because dirt can get in all those nooks and crevices. I’d saute them in butter to start, and maybe also cook them up in a creamy sauce for pasta.

  • Reply
    Gail Henigman
    November 9, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    Thank you for this informative and tasty column re mushrooms. I would like to give you a”tip” also. Costco sells a “snack” of dried seasoned shitaki mushrooms that I found – believe it or not = not pleasant; however, they are dried including the stems, so one day I didn’t have my regular supply of dried shitakes so I decided to use these “Costco snaks” instead and oh my heavens – THEY WERE UTTERLY DELICIOUS WHEN I SOAKED THEM IN BROTH and I now use only these shitakis and put them in almost everything – absolutely delicious. Gail Henigman

    • Reply
      November 9, 2020 at 12:37 pm

      Interesting, I can’t imagine snacking on dried mushrooms! Glad you found a use for them 🙂

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