Have you ever looked at mushrooms when you’re out on a walk and wondered if they are good to eat? Wild mushrooms are a delicious treat whether you buy them, find them or grow them at home: our guide shows you how to select or buy the best mushrooms and how to cook them for the ultimate taste experience.
There’s a range of edible mushrooms that can be grown at home. Consider growing these varieties:
Oyster – grown on a kit basis, these have a rich almost oyster‐like flavour, hence the name, and a delicate tender texture that adds a great deal to subtle dishes like risotto and omelettes.
Shiitake – this variety of fungus is highly rated for both nutrition and medicinal value. They can grow to a considerable size, up to 10‐12 cm. The flavour is meaty and substantial and very popular in stews and stir‐fries.
Enoki – the name enoki translates as winter mushrooms because they are a rare fungus that grows as low as 2 degrees C. The whole mushroom has to be eaten to get the maximum benefit.
Button – the classic British mushroom has a delicate flavour and is traditionally eaten fried.
The important thing to remember about growing edible fungi is that it doesn’t contain chlorophyll. This has two important effects:
Mushrooms don’t need sunlight as they don’t photosynthesise and may actually be damaged by too much sun They don’t ‘produce’ their own nutrients through photosynthesis and so must use other plant‐based materials such as wood (trees) hay, straw and leaves for their nutritional intake.
Mushrooms are grown from mycelia, commonly called spawn, which are tiny threadlike colonies that develop below ground and produce their fruit, mushrooms, above ground. The mycelia spawn is introduced to a growing medium such as logs, finely crushed wooden chippings, untreated sawdust, sterilised compost, straw, hay or chipped bark.
A mushroom kit usually contains both the growing medium and the spawn and generally requires a high humidity some need to be watered twice a day, so mushroom growing is not a low‐maintenance exercise.
Mushrooms will normally be produced from about 14 days after the kit is hydrated and an average kit will produce three or four ‘flushes’ or growths of mushroom before the mycelia exhaust the nutrients in the growing medium.
Foraging For Fungi
Many celebrity chefs extol the flavour and texture of wild mushrooms and most of us have come across fungi growing wild and wondered if they were edible. Many delicatessens stock wild mushrooms and some supermarkets have recently followed suit.
So can you collect mushrooms for yourself from the wild?
Yes, and no. You can harvest mushrooms on common land, but be aware that unless you have the landowner’s permission to forage on private land you are actually trespassing. You can be removed from private land (but you are entitled to keep whatever you’ve foraged as long as it’s for private consumption!) You can’t forage in certain areas like the New Forest, for profit, unless you have a licence so be careful about taking more of anything than would feed an average family, you could be prosecuted, and you could also harm the plant you’ve harvested and cause it to die if you ‘overcrop’ it. Remember that many wild plants are essential to native species of bird, insect and mammal so what you take may deprive rare creatures of their essential diet.
The best advice is to take a foraging class with an expert these are run up and down the UK and help you to identify fungi species it is safe to eat, show you how to harvest them and ensure you are using natural bounty sensibly.
Once you’ve got your wild mushrooms, you need to cook them to get the best from them.
Mixed Mushroom Risotto
- 600ml good vegetable stock
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 500g wild mushrooms, wiped and finely sliced
- 500g button mushrooms wiped and chopped
- 2 shallots, diced or one small red onion
- 340g Arborio risotto rice
- 125ml dry white wine or an extra 125ml of boiling water with 1 teaspoon lemon juice for non‐alcohol drinkers
- 1 bay leaf
- 60g butter
- 75g freshly grated parmesan
Place the stock into a large saucepan and heat gently. Keep heated while you make the risotto – this is one of the keys to a perfect rice dish.
Pour two tablespoons of olive oil into a large frying pan and when it is heated, stir in the mushrooms and cook for three minutes until they are soft and have given up their liquid. Tip both mushrooms and liquid into a bowl and set aside.
Reheat the pan with the remaining olive oil and tip in the shallots, cooking for just a minute before adding the rice and stirring to coat well. Cook, stirring continuously for two or three minutes until the rice takes on a gentle golden hue. Then pour in the wine or the 125 ml of boiling water and stir until fully absorbed. Add the bay leaf to the pan.
Add a large ladle of stock, and stir until absorbed, then add another ladleful. Continue this process until all the stock is used and the rice should just be tender to the bite – which takes between 15‐18 minutes depending on the rice.
Remove from the heat, remove the bay leaf and stir in the mushrooms and their liquid. Cover the pan for five minutes and then stir in butter and parmesan and season to taste before serving.
Slow‐Baked Foraged Fungi
This delicious recipe is ideal for Aga owners but can also be made in a normal oven. It can be served as it is, on toast, as a classic British lunch, or gently folded into pasta. For a delicious treat, top a good steak with the baked fungi or layer them, on top of a thick slice of Brie, into a folded omelette.
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side dish.
- 2 tablespoons melted butter or ghee
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 600g wild mushrooms (anything except Enoki) – cut the largest lengthways but leave the smallest so that they are all about the same in terms of volume
Preheat oven to 250ºF or 120ºC, gas mark ½.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir until fully coated. Pour into a large, high‐sided baking dish or tray and cook for up to one and a half hours, turning the mushrooms over every 30 minutes. The mushrooms become very soft and succulent.