Annabel Langbein cooks with mushrooms
Those mornings in the countryside, when the dew falls so thickly as to show the tracks of everything that passes, and the leaves lie in great piles ready to scuff and throw, are the mornings to pack a picnic and head out mushrooming.
It's easy to spot the bright white caps of field mushrooms (Agaricus campestris) in paddocks and parks. Being easy to identify (some kinds aren't), these mushrooms are the safest option for the forager. As with commercial button mushrooms, field mushrooms have thick, fleshy white caps, and gills that change from pale pink to dark brown as the fungi matures.
In some places you will also find horse mushrooms, especially where there has been cow or sheep manure. These giant white caps have the same gill structure and colour as field mushrooms but can be the size of dinner plates.
There is another field mushroom we get down in Wanaka (known as a yellow stainer) that looks like a horse mushroom but will give most people a nasty tummy upset. Down south we also get a lot of birch and larch boletus mushrooms - these grow under birch and larch trees and can be identified by their spongy, rather than gilled, caps.
I always slice and dry them, as this concentrates the umami. Adding a handful into a soup, sauce or stew gives it a rich depth of flavour you won't get from fresh mushrooms.
With any wild mushroom, the trick is to cook them as quickly as you can before the worms get them. You will see the little tunnels these worms make when you pick the mushrooms. If you don't cut them out or cook them right away, they will take over. They are harmless but just the idea of eating little maggots is unappealing. Some people soak the mushrooms in salted water, which brings them to the surface but makes the mushroom soggy so it won't brown when you fry it. I tend to cut out the really maggotty parts and not worry if there are a couple here and there - it's just a bit of extra protein, after all.
My favourite way to cook mushrooms is to slice them and fry them with a good knob of butter. Once they are nearly browned I throw in a little crushed garlic and sizzle them for another minute or two so the garlic softens without browning. I'll finish by seasoning with salt and pepper and drizzle with lemon juice.
If you want you can add some good-quality chicken or vegetable stock to this to make a soup, or a little stock and cornflour to make a sauce for steak or chicken.
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Mushrooms are always a great addition to a stir-fry and the oyster sauce in this recipe really brings out their flavour. Using dried shitake mushrooms as well gives an even more flavoursome umami result. Get the recipe
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