Just Good Food

by John Ryan


FAQ on Mushrooms


Whites, Browns, and Portobellos

As I sell mushrooms at a farmer's market each Saturday, these are the most frequently asked questions.

Q: You say that portobello mushrooms are simply mature brown mushrooms. If they are really the same mushroom, why do portobellos cost so much more?

A: There are two reasons. A) portobellos take more time to get to that stage, and B) they are riskier.

  • A) The time thing is obvious. If you're going for maximum productivity, you'll want to pick the bed in one pass and simply replant. But for portobellos the picker has to thin the beds, leaving some mushrooms room to open up. This not only means two pickings, but it ties up the beds for another week or so.
  • B) The risk factor is not so obvious. As the mushrooms mature (spores develop and the caps open up), they become more vulnerable. Disease gets in through the gills. Young, closed mushrooms can resist these diseases, but as the mushrooms open up, it's like opening the door to their enemies. A crop that you've nursed along can be wiped out at this stage.

Q: Why is a knob of dirt always on portobello stems?

A: They stay fresh longer if you get them "roots" and all.


Q: Is the portobello stem edible?

A: Absolutely! It is good to chop up and add to soup, or add when you sauté, say, zucchini or tomatoes. Try them in my Zucchini with Mushroom Stems recipe.


Q: Aren't you supposed to buy mushrooms with tightly closed caps?

A: Talk about dated advice! I swear, it must have been advanced by food prudes who considered it un-mushroom-like behavior to show any gills.

I will say though, if you want closed mushrooms for the sake of appearance, by all means, get them closed. But the gills are a sign of maturity, not a sign of being old.


Q: Should mushrooms be peeled?

A: No. Again, it's old-fashioned advice. You know, every summer I hear about a TV chef who scoops out the gills. And I'm asked if it's some kind of secret. Now I can't say the chef is wrong for doing it. For all I know, the dish is good and the chef has a good reason for wanting the gills gone. But I can say that it isn't basic prep like stemming spinach or peeling onions.


Q: Do any of these mushrooms have to be cooked?

A: No. Many wild mushrooms need to be cooked, but the whites, browns, and portobellos are fine raw.


Q: Can you freeze mushrooms?

A: Not really. If you are really in a position of losing them, you can freeze them and then later simmer them to get a broth. But the mushrooms themselves will have an unappetizing texture.


Mushrooming Mushrooms


More About Mushrooms


John Ryan

Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.

Just Good Food Archive

This page created 1997. Modified August 2007.

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