The choice of cultivated mushrooms in the shops is increasing all the time. Button mushrooms are useful for their white flesh, which doesn’t discolour sauces, but for flavour I prefer the more meaty portabello, chestnut and field mushrooms. Wild mushrooms are expensive but delicious, and their flavours are so intense that just a few can be used to liven up a dish of cultivated mushrooms.
When buying mushrooms, look for firm specimens that smell fresh and are neither withered nor waterlogged. Store in the fridge in a paper bag with a few air holes in it and use within two or three days.
To clean, wipe with a damp cloth, or rinse quickly under the cold tap if very dirty, and trim the stalk end. Some wild mushrooms require special treatment. Morels tend to trap the dirt, so wash them gently but thoroughly in cold water, then cut off the stem. I like to make a small slit in the side of each morel to release any sand trapped inside. Chanterelles, too, can be very dirty, so wash them several times in cold water, then dry well on a cloth. Porcini should never be washed in water, as they soak it up like a sponge, ruining their delicate flavour. Simply clean them with a damp cloth or soft brush before slicing them thinly.
© 1999 Paul Gayler. All rights reserved.