Though available year-round, a larger variety of wild mushrooms are available in fall. There’s no substitute for the rich, meaty flavor and delicate texture of mushrooms, from wide portobellos to savory porcini and prized morels. Learn how to choose, prep and cook with mushrooms, with new ideas straight from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Mushrooms: Everything You Need to Know
What to Look For
Fresh mushrooms should be firm with smooth, unblemished caps. Avoid any that are broken, limp, wrinkled, soggy or moldy. Stems with gray, dried ends indicate that the mushrooms have been stored too long. Check that packaged, presliced mushrooms are not wrinkled or discolored. With closed-cap mushrooms like buttons or creminis, if the cap is open so that the gills are exposed, the mushrooms are too old. For varieties where the gills are exposed, such as portobellos, check to ensure that the gills are unbroken.
As mushrooms age, they dry out, so the heaviest mushrooms should be the freshest. If you plan to cook mushrooms whole, select those with caps of the same size for even cooking.
Almost 40,000 varieties of mushroom exist in the world, but only a fraction of them make it to the table, where they are enjoyed for their rich, earthy flavor. For culinary purposes, mushrooms are divided into two categories: cultivated and wild.
Today, as demand for different varieties increases, mushroom growers are able to cultivate more and more types, and the line between cultivated and wild is blurring. The most flavorful—and most expensive—mushrooms, however, are still gathered by foragers in forests under trees or on old stumps. Highly prized mushrooms, such as the matsutake and the morel, have eluded all attempts at cultivation. Around the world, mushroom hunting after the rains of spring or during the cool mornings of autumn is still a thriving—and ultimately delicious—tradition.
Mushrooms absorb water readily, become soggy and flavorless if left to soak. While some cooks insist that you should not wash mushrooms at all, a quick rinse and a thorough drying with paper towels immediately before cooking will not hurt them. If you have time or plan to cook only a few mushrooms, wipe them clean with a damp cloth or brush. Trim the dried end of tender stems; but if the stems are tough, remove them completely and save them for soup or stock.
Refrigerate fresh mushrooms for no more than three or four days, keeping them in a paper bag to absorb excess moisture. Spread delicate varieties in a single layer on a tray and cover them with a damp cloth. If sealed in plastic, mushrooms will become slimy and mold quickly.
Your Mushroom Toolkit
- Paring knives, for trimming and slices mushrooms
- Nonstick fry pans, to saute mushrooms
- Le Creuset Skinny Grill, to grill mushrooms
- Shiitake Mushroom Log, for growing your own mushrooms
Although mushrooms can be cooked by almost any method, they taste wonderful when simply sauteed in olive oil, with a little garlic, over high heat. Mushrooms are also good tossed with olive oil (be judicious; these little sponges can soak up a lot of oil) and seasonings, then roasted or grilled, gill side up, to retain their juices. To grill small mushrooms, thread them on skewers. Looking for a few simple, recipe-free ideas for enjoying mushrooms? Here are several of our favorite no-brainer preparations.
Polenta with Sauteed Mushrooms: Whisk 1 cup polenta into 4 cups boiling water. Simmer until tender, then stir in butter, mascarpone, grated parmesan, salt and pepper. Sear mushrooms until tender. Add minced garlic, shallot, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper and saute until fragrant. Stir in a knob of butter. Top polenta with mushrooms and shaved parmesan.
Creamy Mushroom Soup: Sear mushrooms until well browned. In a large saucepan, saute garlic, shallots and thyme until fragrant. Add stock and seared mushrooms, and simmer until flavors are melded; season with salt and pepper. Puree soup and finish, if desired, with a splash of cream. Top with a dollop of creme fraiche and chives.
Wild Mushroom Tart with Roasted Garlic Cream: Combine cream and roasted garlic puree and simmer until thickened. Sear wild mushrooms and place in a prebaked tart shell. Pour cream mixture over mushrooms and top with grated fontina and thyme leaves. Bake at 375°F until bubbling. Let cool slightly before serving.
Stuffed Portobellos: Remove stems from portobellos and finely chop. Saute minced garlic, shallots and stems until tender. Let cool, and mix with cooked and drained chopped spinach, cream cheese, grated parmesan, salt and pepper. Stuff mushroom caps with mixture and top with breadcrumbs tossed with melted butter. Bake at 400°F until mushrooms are cooked through.
Mushroom-Brie Omelet: Whisk eggs with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a nonstick pan. Add eggs and cook, stirring, until small curds form. Swirl pan to distribute remaining uncooked egg. Place sliced Brie, sauteed mushrooms and chopped tarragon and chives on half of omelet. Fold over remaining half and cook until eggs are just set.
Shiitake & Snow Pea Stir-Fry: Stir-fry thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms in canola and sesame oil until tender. Add trimmed snow peas, minced ginger, chile-garlic sauce and a splash of Shoaxing wine, if desired. Cook until snow peas are crisp-tender. Finish with toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced green onions.
Some of our most beloved mushroom preparations may be more elaborate and time-intensive, but they highlight the fungi’s versatility in starters, salads, entrees and more.
Since corn is in peak season around late summer and mushrooms are at their best in fall, this Corn Soup with Chanterelles and Thyme is a fantastic course to serve in early fall.
Shiitakes add a meaty quality to simple roast fish, like the sea bass used here. Salmon fillets work equally well, too.
With their dense texture and rich flavor, roasted portobello mushrooms make a satisfying vegetarian main course. You can also put the roasted caps between toasted slices of rustic country bread for a hearty sandwich, or slice them and stir them into a pan sauce for serving with roasted poultry or meats.
Mix up a batch of Savory Barley Soup with Wild Mushrooms and Thyme when cool weather finally arrives. A Parmesan cheese rind added to the broth as it simmers gives the soup a boost in flavor.
Want even more? Find additional tips and recipes for peak-season produce here.