There is something magical about the way mushrooms just appear. One day there’s nothing and the next a feast. Take for example the St Georges Mushroom, so named because it appears with clockwork precision in England on St George’s Day, but is gone before the week is out.
The wooded fields and forests of Europe and Asia yield a multitude of interesting flavours and textures. It was the French who first discovered a way to cultivate mushrooms; they began growing them in caves in the 17th century. Now widely cultivated, it is the button mushroom that is most commonly found in the aisles of fruit and vegetable shops. However there are many other fabulous varieties widely used in different parts of the world and readily available in Australia. These range from the Asian oyster mushroom to the French ceps and, of course, the elusive truffles.
Noel Arrold, microbiologist and owner of Li-Sun mushrooms, was the first to cultivate some of these exotic strains in our own backyard. Taking the spores of the mushrooms Noel grows a wide range of mushrooms in a disused railway tunnel that runs between Mittagong and Bowral. The mushrooms are cultivated on sawdust, while the moist and humid air in the tunnel mimics the environment on the forest floors in Korea, China and Japan where these mushrooms naturally occur.
Li Sun mushrooms are sold through Woolworth’s and at farmers’ markets in Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane/Noosa.
Choose fresh mushrooms that are not discoloured or withered. All mushrooms (excluding truffles) should be refrigerated. Cultivated mushrooms should be stored in a paper (not plastic) bag. Avoid any damp or wet spots in the fridge. Shiitake and oyster mushrooms should be stored in a single layer (they are often packaged on a small tray). Mushrooms should not be washed, any dirt can be gently wiped off with a damp cloth. It is generally best to eat mushrooms as soon as possible after purchasing them.
Also known as the golden needle mushroom. Enokis have long stems, small caps and are a creamy colour. They are predominantly used in Asian cooking. As they are so small they only need to be added at the last minute. Choose enoki mushrooms that are supple not slimy – they should not appear wet. Store them in their original wrapping for 4 – 5 days.
Also known as the abalone mushroom. The oyster mushroom is named for their shape, similar to an oyster shell. They have a delicate flavour and can be a creamy buff colour, taupe or soft salmon pink. They should be stored in a single layer in the fridge.
Pronounced she-TAH-keh, the shiitake mushroom is also known as the Japanese mushroom or the Black Forest mushroom. Shiitake mushrooms are available in a dried form and are now cultivated fresh in Australia. The shiitake mushrooms are dark brown with a thick meaty cap and flavour.
Swiss brown –
The Swiss brown is in fact the original button mushroom. A mutant strain of the Swiss brown with a white cap was discovered in the 1920s and became the dominant variety. Swiss browns are now available in most fruit and vegie shops and are distinguished by their chestnut-brown caps and more robust flavour. When fully opened they can be referred to as Portobello mushrooms.
The Porcini mushroom is highly prized in European cooking. Porcini mushrooms can be bought in a dried form in Australia. Reconstitute in a little boiling water for 20 minutes. If you are using the mushrooms in a risotto or similar dish, strain and reserve the soaking liquid and add to your stock. A small amount of porcini mushrooms and stock will greatly enhance the flavour of your dish.
Mushrooms love - garlic, parsley, butter, chilli, eggs, bacon, beef, cream, goat’s cheese, lemons, onions, parmesan cheese, steak, olive oil,
Cooking tips -
Top large flat mushrooms with finely chopped garlic, chilli and drizzle with olive oil. Place on an oven tray in the oven and cook at a moderate heat for approximately 10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve with steak.