Known as the meat of the vegetable world, edible mushrooms are used extensively in many cuisines. While there are farms cultivating mushrooms, foraging for wild mushrooms remains a popular activity for many chefs.
All fresh wild mushrooms are seasonal and are greatly influenced by weather patterns in the areas they are grown, and expected harvests can vary widely from year to year. Prices will also vary from season to season in response to supply and demand from the worldwide market.
"Not only do mushrooms have nutritional value, every species of mushroom has its own unique taste and adds another dimension to a dish in terms of texture," says Jamie Sinclair, client relationship manager at Chef's Connection, a New Covent Garden Market catering distributor. "If you cook a mushroom well, its flavour will be remembered."
Chef's Connection recently organised a tasting for chefs to cook several mushroom species, supplied by Mushroom Man, and discuss their flavour and other properties. Jamie Sinclair from Chef's Connection guides us through some popular varieties.
Properties Delicate apricot aroma
Usage On its own or in a mixed mushroom dish or with meat or fish
Notes This versatile mushroom gives colour to sauces and the overall appearance of a dish. Scottish girolles are available in the UK from July to November.
Properties Intense earthy flavour, pitted honeycomb-like surface, hollow inside
Usage In sauces and stews; suitable for stuffing
Notes They grow in dry, sandy areas, so it's important to wash them well to get rid of any grit.
Properties Very firm bite, meaty texture
Usage Especially good with lamb, pork and fish
Notes Popular in Asian dishes, also known as King Oyster
Properties They have an excellent flavour which can enhance almost any dish
Usage Should be cooked and eaten whole
Notes Enoki means winter mushroom, so-called because they can grow at temperatures as low as 1 or 2Â°C.
Properties Nutty flavour, meaty texture
Usage In salads, pasta dishes, sauces, quiches, casseroles, soups and omelettes
Notes This brown mushroom is one of the most flavoursome and has a rich, earthy taste.
Properties Meaty flavour
Usage Can be sautéd, broiled, baked, grilled or stir-fried; or thinly sliced and used raw in salads
Notes Usually cooked, but can be eaten raw, when it has a faint peppery bite
Properties Firm, slightly crunchy texture, slightly nutty flavour
Usage In stir-fries; with wild game or seafood; in soups, stews and sauces
Notes This mushroom should be cooked whole, as most of the flavour is in its long, slim stem.
Properties Robust, meaty texture
Usage Good for roasting, baking and stuffing
Notes These large, flat, dark open-capped mushrooms are great for barbecuing.
Properties Delicate flavour, soft, seafood-like texture
Usage In stir-fries, pasta and risotto
Notes The flesh of the yellow oyster mushroom is much more fragile than that of the grey or pink oyster, and its vibrant colour is reduced slightly during the cooking process.
Properties Strong fragrance, dense texture, distinctive meaty flavour
Usage With strongly flavoured vegetables such as onions and leeks
Notes The blue stem gives this mushroom its name, meaning "blue foot", and it can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
WHAT THE CHEFS SAID
John Tremayne, sous chef, the Gun, Docklands, London E14
"There's no waste on a mushroom. You can use the stems and heads, and they have such complex flavours. The pied bleu is a densely textured mushroom that has a real piney, wood flavour. It can be paired with meat and fish with similar dense textures, such as beef, venison, turbot or brill.
"With their delicate nutty, straw-like taste, girolles work well with leeks in a little gratin with cream and garlic, but don't soak them when you clean them. Morels have quite a delicate flavour, sweeter and a bit perfumey at the end, and can be paired with other jewels of spring such as asparagus or with good rare-breed pork."
Julian Marshall, executive chef, the Bleeding Heart restaurant, Farringdon, London EC1
"I love using wild mushrooms for a mushroom consommé: just garnished with some fresh herbs, it has fantastic flavour. Yellow oyster is a good-looking mushroom with a nice earthy flavour and works well in sauce and risotto. Also, they're easy to prep - you don't need a knife as they can be torn by hand.
"Commonly found in Korea, shimeji have a slight yeasty smell to them when raw and a strong flavour and a nice shape when cooked. They suit Oriental-style flavours and are lovely for garnish. Eyringii mushrooms are very clean and easy to use, with a nice texture. However, they're not very strong in flavour, so need a little help with some garlic and shallots."
Nick Cuadrado, executive chef, INC Group, Madison restaurant, St Paul's, London EC4
"Mushrooms are great just cooked simply. The chestnut is a versatile mushroom that holds its shape well. It has a lovely flavour and comes fairly cheap so it's a good all-rounder and great for GP. I use them for soup and risotto. Yellow oyster mushrooms make an excellent base for mushroom duxelle, served with or on toast.
"Shiitake has a meaty texture and great flavour and works well in creamed spinach for egg Florentine. I keep the stalks back for mushroom stock."
Greenhill Mushrooms 020 7720 8681