When I stopped by the Logan Square Farmers Market a couple of weeks ago, I visited River Valley Ranch Farm's stand. They are from Burlington, Wisconsin and are the oldest mushroom farm in the Midwest. They started in 1976 as just a two-man company. Now, they ship all over the country, and they have a prominent presence at many farmers markets in Chicago.
They always offer a great variety of mushrooms, and I especially love their brown paper bag special medley for just 10 dollars. That's a great buy! I got cremini (aka or baby bella), shiitake and oyster mushrooms this time. The medley is a fun way to experience new mushrooms you wouldn't normally find in your grocery store and find different ways to cook the varieties.
Mushrooms can be used in a large variety of dishes, and they are not complicated to prepare. From appetizers to salads, soups, pickled, sautéed with spinach over chicken or simply added to an omelet, there's no limit to how you can incorporate more mushrooms in your diet. They are also delicious served raw, by adding them to a salad or simply drizzling with some good olive oil and fresh lemon juice.
Washing mushrooms is a controversial subject among chefs. I personally do not wash them because mushrooms are like little sponges and can absorb water. You also lose some of the nutrients when washing. Instead, I use a damp paper towel or brush to wipe off any dirt on the mushrooms.
It's also important to use high heat and a large pan when cooking mushrooms, like our Owner/Chef Shelley Young demonstrates in this video:
When I was a child in Germany, my grandmother used to take me to the forest to forage for mushrooms. She would give me hints about what to look for, which ones were the edible ones and which ones to avoid. These were very early morning adventures in search of the great fungi! The variety was not great; we mostly found Portobello mushrooms but they were delicious grilled or pickled.
Mushrooms are also good for you! They are excellent sources of Vitamins B and D, niacin, fiber and are rich in potassium. In fact, a large Portobello mushroom has as much potassium as a banana! They boost your immune system and have been linked to decreased blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Naturally light, one serving of mushrooms has just 20 calories and zero grams of fat.
Mushrooms also go very well with wine. The variety of mushroom and level of umami plays a role in choosing a wine. Typically, the darker the mushroom, the greater the umami flavor. So, earthy, hearty mushrooms like shiitake, portabella, porcini and morel pair well with fuller bodied wines, like a barrel-aged chardonnay, pinot noir, nebbiolo, syrah, cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel. Delicate varieties like lobster, enoki, maitake, and oyster, are best served with lighter white wines, such as sauvignon blanc, semillon, riesling, a light chardonnay, or light, fruity reds, like beaujolais.
Dry mushrooms are also a staple in my kitchen. These are especially great in soups and stews and you reconstitute them by soaking them in a liquid prior to adding them to the dish you are making. I love soaking chanterelle mushrooms in brandy and turning them into a mushroom ragout.
If you want to be on the lookout for unusual varieties of mushrooms at your local farmers market, don't miss these posts about some of Shelley's favorites:
- How to Cook Maitake or Hen of the Woods Mushrooms
- How to Dry and Preserve Morel Mushrooms
- How to Cook Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms
If you are lucky enough to procure some French-style mushrooms such as chanterelle, oyster, etc., put them to use in this French-Style Sautéed Mushrooms with Polenta Bake.
Learn how to work with mushrooms in our Pizza on the Grill Demo at Lincoln Square on Sunday, August 29 at 11am. You'll learn how to make Deep Dish Pizza with Mushrooms and Roasted Peppers on your grill!