Mushrooms

Look beyond cultivated white mushrooms to add flavor, texture and variety to menu items

Diners who like mushrooms really like them, giving operators a chance to promote specialty pizzas like the “Champignone”, which is offered by Pizza Bubamara in Chicago. This pie combines cremini, portobello and straw mushrooms.
At three-store Old Venice Pizza Company in Jackson, Mississippi, a “’Shrooms Pizza” complements common cultivated white mushrooms with enoki, shiitake and portobello mushrooms.

Furthermore, Old Venice’s customers can enjoy the same flavorful variety of domestic and wild mushrooms over pasta, says general manager Bill Steinriede.
“A lot of people have never heard of shiitake or enoki mushrooms,” he says, “but when they try them, they love them.” To prepare the wild mushroom pasta dish, Old Venice chefs sauté sliced white, shiitake and portobello mushrooms, and combine them with a balsamic cream sauce that’s served over fettuccini noodles.

“The enoki mushrooms, which are very small, come in bunches,” Steinriede says. “We leave them whole, and add small bunches to the pasta at the end, because they don’t take long to cook. The enokis help to give this dish a distinctive look and flavor.”
Steinriede says a popular appetizer at Old Venice is a battered, fried portobello mushroom topped with cream cheese and served with marinara sauce.

“Grilled portobellos make a great sandwich, too,” he says. “We serve ours with prosciutto ham, tomato and provolone, with a sprinkle of vinaigrette on top. Because portobellos are a meatier mushroom, they’re a good substitute in a dish like vegetable lasagna. We sauté portobellos, eggplant and zucchini, and layer them with tomato basil sauce, lasagna noodles and cottage, feta and cream cheeses.”

Leon Slayton, executive chef at Polidoro Italian Grill in Newcastle, Delaware, also uses portobellos, both alone and in combination with white and shiitake mushrooms. Slayton prepares mushrooms by slicing and sautéing them in olive oil and a splash of wine.
“Portobellos have a stronger flavor, so they go well with burgundy or marsala,” he says. “Shiitake and button mushrooms are complemented better by chablis.
“Our customers really enjoy portobellos,” Slayton continues. “It’s a meaty mushroom with a ‘steaky’ texture. We use raw sliced portobellos on salads, and we marinate them in a mixture of soy sauce and burgundy before grilling them for portobello sandwiches.”

Polidoro also is earning rave reviews for its most popular appetizer, a crabmeat-filled whole portobello. Slayton runs marinated portobellos through the impingement oven for 5 minutes to precook them, then allows them to cool before placing them back in the marinade. When an order for the appetizer comes in, he adds crabmeat and tops it with provolone before returning the portobello to the impingement oven to bake 5 more minutes. He plates the portobello on Asiago cream sauce and garnishes it with diced Roma tomatoes.

No Help Necessary
According to David Cohen, executive chef for the four Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza locations in Los Gatos, California, mushrooms are flavorful in themselves and do not require help from other ingredients.

“Mushrooms are a wonderful food with infinite uses,” he says. “Although most of them can be used raw, I really don’t like to use them that way unless they’re very thinly shaven, because their texture can be overpowering. I occasionally make an Asian cole slaw that includes thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms. They add an ‘iron-y’ flavor and good texture. That iron flavor also complements meats.

“But, in my opinion, sautéing brings out the real flavor and texture of the different varieties. When mushrooms are caramelized properly, they’ll have a golden color, surface crunchiness, and a soft center filled with the released juices. I like to quickly sauté mushrooms, bind them with a little butter, and add a little thyme and a splash of wine — that’s the food of the gods.”
Willow Street’s menu includes a three-mushroom angel hair pasta, which combines shiitake, oyster and button mushrooms that are sautéed with cream sherry, garlic, shallots and spinach and served over al dente pasta.

“Customers may not be adventurous,” Cohen says, “so to get people to try new mushrooms, I try to provide dishes that include one or two familiar varieties, as well as an ‘exotic’ one. Oyster mushrooms have a delicate flavor, so I wouldn’t use them with a cream sauce, but they’d be great in a risotto, for instance.”

Cohen isn’t afraid to experiment with different mushroom varieties, because none will go to waste if customers don’t immediately respond to new dishes. “We make a mushroom ‘burger’,” he says. “It’s an alternative to our portobello sandwich, and it’s a great way to use up extra mushrooms. To prepare it, we slice and dice a variety of mushrooms, and bind them together with some cooked barley or other cooked grain. We can then make patties that can be cooked like a hamburger. Both mushroom sandwiches are great options for vegetarians.”

If you don’t want to add different mushrooms to your ingredient list, you can still indulge mushroom fans as they do at Barry’s Spot in Chicago. There, diners can get extra mushrooms for their pasta for an additional $1.19. That’s a nice revenue boost for the addition of an ounce or so of warmed sliced mushrooms — and it keeps mushroom lovers coming back for more.

Expert Advice

Leon Slayton, executive chef at Polidoro Italian Grill in Newcastle, Delaware, provides this tip for cooking with mushrooms:
“To infuse the mushrooms’ flavor into any dish, you have to start with a very hot pan, and add just a bit of butter or olive oil. When the mushrooms hit the hot pan, they release the juices that contain their flavor. When you add a cream or red sauce, that flavor infuses the sauce. Even regular white button mushrooms can make a huge difference in a dish’s flavor when they’re sautéed properly.”

Wild Mushroom Pesto Penne
Courtesy of Executive Chef David Cohen

1 teaspoon butter
1 1/2 to 2 oz. sliced assorted wild mushrooms*
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced shallots
2 to 3 tablespoons basil pesto
dash of cream
1 tablespoon butter
8 ounces cooked penne pasta
fresh basil, chopped
Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat butter in sauté pan and add mushrooms, sautéing until mushrooms release their juices. Add garlic, shallots, and pesto and heat through. Add just enough cream to bind the ingredients, then add butter to finish the sauce. Toss with pasta and garnish with basil and Parmesan.
*Use 3 to 5 mushroom varieties, but avoid delicate, soft mushrooms, such as enoki or chanterelles. Cohen recommends firmer mushrooms, such as a combination of crimini, portobello and shiitake mushrooms, but notes that morels and button mushrooms also work well.