How Should I Cook You, My Dear Mushroom?

After a long day hunting and identifying edible mushrooms, you’re finally back home and ready to cook something up. You are really excited because you’ve found a good edible you haven’t tried before. Of course, before you start envisioning recipe options there is always the need for a good mushroom cleaning. The two common methods are wiping your mushrooms clean or placing them under running water and giving them a thorough scrubbing. Sandy and I always opt for the water cleaning treatment. Many of the mushrooms we find are typically too mucky to just wipe down and God only knows what creatures may have taken a whiz or something worse on them. Besides, most mushrooms are more than 90% water already so a few more drops ain’t gonna hurt them. In any event, what I have found to be of greater importance is, will you even like this new mushroom and how should it be prepared?

Let me hearken back to a time when we brought home our first lobster mushroom. It was certainly no quick whiz bang job to clean up this deer rascal of a mushroom. I wanted to run it through the dishwasher but Sandy said she would clean it up in the sink. Then, I cut it into chunks, tossed it into a skillet with onions, peppers, and broccoli florets and steamed the whole thing with the lid on until the broccoli was just tender.

To my surprise, instead of seeing a little broth when I added the precooked rice, the pan was almost completely dry. Where had all the moisture gone? Well, glad you asked. The chunks of lobster mushroom soaked up every drop of moisture which made them soft, soggy and gave them the mouth feel of an old rubbery tasteless potato that had seen far better days. Subsequently, I had to remove all the lobster chunks and replace them with some frozen sautéed chanterelle mushrooms from an earlier outing. This “bad choice” cooking fiasco should have been a valuable teaching moment for me but apparently it wasn’t.

Not long after “Looser Lobster Gate” I also made a humdinger of a mistake the first time we brought home Matsutake mushrooms. While there are various opinions for describing exactly what this mushroom smells like, it is quite pungent with a very robust aroma. That being the case, you may think I would have taken the time to mull over the best way to prepare this highly aromatic mushroom. Oh contraire mon ami, no forethought required on my part as it was going to be pasta with a medley of tried and true edible mushrooms featuring the Matsutake. Everything went as planned, the table was set, the parmesan cheese was grated, the pasta was served, and Voilà, the pasta dish tasted exactly like Matsutake smells. It overwhelmed everything and not in a good way. Although, the kalamata olive bread was quite good and who doesn’t like bread with a little schmear of peanut butter and strawberry preserves for dinner.

As they say, the third time’s the charm and apparently I needed a third time. There is an amazingly dense and large mushroom commonly called the Cat mushroom or Mock Matsutake (Catathelasma ventricosum). This mega sized mushroom being quite common and listed as edible made it a natural for our list of mushrooms to try. Having destroyed two previous meals I decided to just take a few thinly sliced pieces from the cap and sauté them in a neutral oil (like canola) and unsalted butter to aid in giving them a nice golden hue. After 35 minutes of sautéing the slices were still tough as leather. So, I called Marcia Peeters for advice and she recommended boiling the mushroom first and then sautéing it. After 30 minutes of boiling and 35 minutes of sautéing, it was still tough as leather. It also had this persistent, unpleasant metallic flavor. While disappointed with the outcome I was quite pleased that no rice dish or pasta meal had been ruined by the Cat mushroom. I only had a large pot, a sauté pan, and a slightly grease stove top to deal with. I had finally learned what now seems so obvious that dry sautéing a previously untried mushroom without any added seasoning is the best way to check its desirability and help determine what recipes it might do well in, if any. As for the Cat mushroom, no recipe or cooking method could make this mushroom palatable. The Matsutake, while beloved by some is also on our “not interested” list. And before I get 10,000 dislikes and dozens of “you need to use it in an Asian recipe” emails; we tried it, didn’t like it, ain’t gonna eat it. On a positive note, I finally found a way to cook the Lobster mushroom that we both enjoy. Slice it thinly, apply an ample amount of mesquite seasoning and fry it crispy like well cooked bacon. As vegetarians, it’s a great bacon substitute and makes a wonderful Bacon Lettuce & Tomato, or in this case Lobster Lettuce & Tomato sandwich.

Happy mushroom hunting, stay safe, and good luck with your recipes.

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