Playing With Mushrooms

market mushrooms

I’m pretty sure there are morels growing in my backyard, among the roots of a clutch of trees. But these babies are wild mushrooms! And while I had a microbiologist tell me yesterday that morels only look like morels and there aren’t other “false morels” out there, I can’t shake the fear of ending up dead with my husband, found days later with DVRed episodes of Hoarders playing me into eternity.

Am I being crazy? Should I instead be training my dog to sniff out these things for lots of money per pound? Who knows, maybe there’s some truffles down there too…

In the meantime, I’m going to stick with procuring my mushrooms from someone who actually cultivates what they want and then sells them to me at a fair price at the farmers market. The varieties of flavors, colors, and textures available are plentiful and bountiful enough to keep me busy for plenty of time.

But what to do with them once you’ve gotten them home? A simple mushroom salad, of whatever variety suits your fancy is always a good first stop. Pick out firm, not slimy specimens that seem heavy for their size. Slice, dice, or mince, toss with some olive oil, arugula and shredded pecorino and a perfect summer starter is born.

If you’ve got ambitions of turning on your oven, for me no mushroom dish exists that’s better than a roasted maitake (my-TAH-kee). Also called Hen of the Woods, maitakes look, when fresh and well-cared for, like a little fowl with puffed up feathers that could blend perfectly into a pile of leaves.

Turn the oven up to 400º and lay your mushrooms out on a sheet tray in a single layer. Drizzle with some olive oil, sprinkle on sea salt and pepper and maybe a small pinch of fresh, minced rosemary and/or thyme. Roast until the water starts to seep out of the bases and the tips of the feathery bits start to crisp up. Serve with some raw, finely minced shallot and a small salad.

This is the dish my now husband made for me on the night I knew I’d fallen in love.

I have one other word of caution, besides don’t go out into the woods and try tasting anything mushroom-like. Don’t wash the mushrooms! I know its tempting because they grow in dirt or compost, but you must resist! The structure of the mushroom is like a sponge and adding even a small amount of water will dilute their dark, delicious, earthy-ness. If anything foreign or unappetizing is clinging to them, dampen a paper towel, wring it out well, and gently brush away the offending matter. Then, proceed to enjoy this mysterious, uncatagorizable delicacy.

  • Gary Allen

    False Morels (Gyromitra)  appear at the same time, in Spring, as morels. Fortunately, they only vaguely resemble true morels. The easy way to tell them apart is to cut one in half, top to bottom. Morels are hollow, false morels are not. Once you’ve done that, you notice all the other ways they look different — and you’ll no longer bother with the pretenders.

  • Lissa

    What a terrific post! Thanks so much for the idea of mushroom salad; it’s something that hadn’t occurred to me before, but would be both easy and tasty for a warm summer night.

    • Emily

      Hi Lissa! Mushroom salads are delicious! Try one and let us know how it works out!

  • Evan Mahl

    Dear Emily,Just wanted to write a quick note about morels.  Your microbiologist friend is actually wrong about there being no mimics of morels; in fact these mushrooms are grouped as “false morels,” which contain Gyromitra and Verpa species. The former contain a neurotoxin (which can be fatal, but rarely) and the latter cause vomiting and diarrhea in many people.  (Despite that, the latter are consumed by some people.”)  Another reason you are probably not seeing morels (or maybe even “false morels”) is that these species are generally seen only once during the year typically in May.  Bothe false and true tend not to be around in the hotter parts of summer.  The fungi are fascinating.With a good guide book you should be able to distinguish the true from the false.  For starters, slice the mushroom lengthwise from top to bottom exposing the inside of the cap and stem.  True morels should be hollow and look sort of like a mold for casting. The false morels will be either solid or have small pockets within the cap.Happy hunting!Evan Mahl

    • Emily Peterson

      Thanks Evan! Next time I see one, I’ll tweet/fb a pic of the inside and outside! I feel more confident already! EP