This week's guide spotlights commonly available fresh mushrooms.
- Shiitake: The best have a woodsy, subtle fragrance and a juicy texture. Smooth versus cracked tops are produced by differences in growing conditions. Cracked "flower" shiitakes are often thought to be tastier. Generally, thicker and heavier specimens cook up more succulent. Avoid those which have opened up very wide or are very thin, as they are likely tasteless.
- Button: The most common mushrooms cultivated globally, these come in white and brown-capped versions. The latter are also called cremini or chestnut mushrooms. Can be eaten raw, pickled, marinated or cooked. They have a mild and versatile, if often bland, flavour.
- Portobello: Left to grow unchecked, a button mushroom becomes a portobello, with a wide and fleshy open cap exposing dark gills. Meaty, succulent and earthy-tasting, they give up a fair bit of liquid when cooked and are best pan-fried or roasted. Good for stuffing.
- Bunashimeji: Sold in tightly packed clumps, these come in white and grey-brown versions and have springy and succulent stalks. Individual mushrooms are about 5cm long. Tasting a little dank and bitter when raw, their light flavour is best brought out by cooking. They can be fried, braised or roasted.
- Oyster mushrooms: These are distinguished by flat, thin caps with pale gills which taper into spongy stems and have a slippery texture when cooked. They are very perishable, so cook promptly after buying. Grey-beige and white cultivars are the most common, but pink and yellow versions can also be found. Baby oyster mushrooms, sometimes called hiratake in Japanese, are as petite and tightly packed as bunashimeji, but with defined gills, dimpled caps and a blue-grey hue. These taste sweet and juicy.
- King oyster mushrooms: Notable for being mostly solid stalk with small caps, these can be up to 15cm long. Also shown here are baby versions between 3 and 5cm long. They are spongy and dense and can be sliced into discs which have a texture much like abalone and other shellfish when braised. Sweet and nutty tasting.
- Black fungus: Also called cloud ears or wood ears. Softer than soaked dried black fungus, with fewer tough bits which need to be trimmed. Bland and unpalatable when raw, they retain their jelly-like texture and dark translucence when cooked.
- Enokitake: Needle-slim, about 2mm thick and sold in clumps. Notable more for their noodle-like texture than for their mild, cereal-like flavour. Can be eaten raw or lightly cooked. Supermarkets occasionally sell a golden-brown variety.
- Crab mushrooms: Resembling a cross between white bunashimeji and enokitake, with long, fleshy stems about 6mm thick. They resemble crabsticks or crabmeat in texture when cooked and shredded. They are mild-flavoured.
- Straw mushrooms: Look for these at groceries or wet markets selling Thai ingredients. The ping pong ball-sized fresh fungi are fleshier than canned versions, with a more distinct wet-earth aroma. Excellent in braised dishes and Thai soups. Halve or quarter before cooking.
- Maitake: Ruffled, feathery fungi sold as palm-sized rosettes or slices of larger clumps. These can be pan-fried, braised or roasted whole, or torn into smaller wedges or clumps. Best cooked with a little liquid, as they can be a bit dry otherwise. They have a pleasing forest aroma and clean mushroom flavour.
Choosing and storing mushrooms: Select firm, heavy mushrooms free of discolouration, damp or soft spots, and sour odours.
Dampness is their nemesis and spoilage spreads quickly in cramped conditions. Most mushrooms keep well when loosely wrapped in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator vegetable drawer.
Text and photos: Chris Tan