I've been on a mushroom binge of late. I just finished watching the 2019 Netflix documentary Fantastic Fungi. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend watching it. Now I'm reading Michael Pollan's 2018 book How To Change Your Mind which delves into the renewed interest in the therapeutic psycho-active properties of certain mushrooms. Because I'm a chef, I want to learn everything I can about cooking with mushrooms. At the restaurant where I work, we've been getting deliveries of cultivated lion's mane mushrooms, some as big as small heads of cauliflower, and our foragers have been bringing in delicate little yellow foot chanterelle mushrooms. In the Fermentation Lab, I'm fermenting ember-smoked mushrooms with koji and salt to make mushroom garum.
For most of my life, the plastic-wrapped containers of white button mushrooms from the supermarket were all I ever knew. Then in the 1980s portobello and crimini mushrooms started showing up. However new and exotic portobellos may have seemed back then, they were actually just overgrown crimini mushrooms, which were the most common variety available in America until the mid-1920s when white button mushrooms became the standard.
Following the coattails of portobellos and criminis into the American marketplace were the so-called exotic mushrooms: oyster, shiitake and enoki. More recently this list has been joined by king trumpet, maitake, beech and lion's mane mushrooms, as well as dried porcinis and morels. Out of the 300 or so edible species of mushrooms, we've only been able to cultivate 30, and just 10 are commonly grown commercially. The other edible varieties have so far defied cultivation and are only available from foragers but, thankfully, the rising popularity of farmers markets has made foraged mushrooms more accessible.
For those of us who could only buy white button mushrooms for most of our lives, there is a need for more information on what we can do with these "new" varieties. A comprehensive guide to mushroom cookery exceeds the space allowance of this column, so I'll be focusing on single varieties in this and future columns. I'll begin the discussion with a mushroom that has become a workhorse in my kitchen, the king trumpet mushroom. King trumpet mushrooms are easily sourced at Asian grocers and are starting to show up in mainstream supermarkets.
The king trumpet mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii), also known as king oyster mushroom, king brown mushroom and French horn mushroom, is the largest of the oyster mushroom genus. Averaging between four and six inches in length, it has a very thick white stem and small brown cap that is only slightly wider than the stem. It has a firm, dense, chewy, meaty texture. When cooked it has a distinct juicy nuttiness, and the pleasant savory flavor known as umami. The king trumpet mushroom is often referred to as "poor man's porcini" because it's full of flavor, but not as expensive as the wild porcini mushroom.
King trumpet mushrooms can be eaten either raw or cooked. Cooking enhances the savory umami flavors, and because king trumpet mushrooms are denser than other mushroom varieties, they hold up well to slow cooking and high heat, and retain their shape. The whole mushroom is edible, unlike shiitakes, which should have their stems removed because they are too tough and woody to eat. King trumpets work well as a stand-in for meat; their texture is similar to scallops, and they mimic the flavor of seafood when cooked in butter and wine.
Pan-seared King Trumpet Mushroom "Steaks"
Serve these over polenta or soft scrambled eggs.
2 king trumpet mushrooms
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1 sprig thyme
1 garlic clove, mashed
flaky sea salt
Slice the mushrooms in half lengthways, then using a crosshatch pattern, score the cut side with small incisions into the exposed flesh. This will help the mushrooms cook faster and more evenly, as well as soak up all the flavor from the olive oil and butter.
Place a pan over high heat. Once the pan is almost smoking, add a drizzle of oil and the mushrooms cut side down. Turn the heat down to medium-high and sear until golden brown and crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes, then flip and allow a little color to develop on the backside.
Add the butter to the pan. Once melted, add the thyme and garlic and season with salt and baste the mushrooms for about a minute more.
King Trumpet Mushroom "Scallops" with Lemon, Parsley, Garlic Butter
King trumpet mushrooms can be prepared like sea scallops.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Juice and zest from a half lemon
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2-4 king trumpet mushrooms (depending on size)
1 scallion or a few chives, thinly sliced
First, prepare the compound butter: Mix the softened butter with the minced garlic, chopped parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice.
Slice the mushroom stems into 1-inch-thick "scallops" and lightly score the cut surfaces in a crosshatch pattern. Season with a little salt.
Place a skillet over high heat. Once the pan is hot, add a drizzle of oil to coat. Turn the heat down to medium-high, add the mushrooms, and sear, without moving, until the first sides are golden brown and crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes, then flip and allow a little color to develop on the opposite sides.
Turn the heat down to low and add the compound butter to the pan. When melted, baste the mushrooms with the compound butter.
Garnish with the scallion or chives and serve.
Roasted, with Miso Sauce
Roasting king trumpet mushroom halves in the oven concentrates their flavor.
1 1/2 pounds king trumpet mushrooms
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges, for serving
For the miso sauce:
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup white miso
2 tablespoons mirin
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
1/4 cup heavy cream
Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and preheat the oven to 475°F.
Slice the mushrooms in half lengthwise, and score the cut side with shallow incisions in a crosshatch pattern. Brush the mushrooms with the melted butter, season with salt and pepper, and arrange the slices, cut-side down, on a rimmed sheet tray. Season with salt and pepper. Roast the mushrooms until lightly browned, 20 to 30 minutes.
While the mushrooms are roasting, prepare the miso sauce: In a saucepan, bring the white wine to a simmer and stir in the miso, mirin, soy sauce, maple syrup and water. Bring back to a simmer, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat. Stir in the mustard and heavy cream.
Transfer the mushrooms to a serving dish, drizzle with some of the miso sauce, and serve with lemon wedges.