Also known as girolle. Bright golden yellow and shaped like a trumpet, this distinctive mushroom is appreciated for its apricot-flavored overtones. A less-common black variety, called black trumpet or trumpet of death, is close in flavor but has a more delicate texture. Chanterelles are not cultivated to date.
Chinese Black Mushroom
Always sold dried. The best are actually beige to brown with cream-colored cracks radiating over the caps.
Cloud Ear Mushroom
Ruffled, brown-black Chinese mushroom with almost no flavor. Its crunch stands up to heat, however, and it adds texture to soups, vegetable stir-fries and fillings. Almost always sold dried, they expand a great deal after soaking. (For example, 3 heaping tablespoons dried cloud ears will swell to 1 cup softened and chopped.) After reconstituting, trim off the tough, flat stems.
The common brown mushroom. Cremini (the Italian plural) are closely related to common white mushrooms and can be used whenever white mushrooms are called for, but they have a light brown color, firmer texture and fuller flavor. Cremini mature to become portobellos.
Tiny, white Asian mushrooms with long, thin stems and caps shaped like pinheads, enoki are crisp and delicate in flavor. Available fresh during the winter or water-packed in cans or plastic tubs, they make beautiful garnishes for salads and clear soups.
A delicacy in Japan, the matsutake appears beneath pine trees for a brief period in midautumn. It has a slightly pointed, thick, dark brown cap and a meaty stem. Not cultivated and difficult to find, the matsutake appears in the northwest region of the United States, but the most flavorful ones come from Japan. Sauté them or wrap in foil and place on the grill.
Considered the king of mushrooms, the morel has an intense, musky flavor that makes it highly sought after. This uncultivated mushroom has a dark, elongated, spongelike cap and hollow stem. The crevices tend to fill with sand and insects, so you may want to treat them as an exception to the no-washing rule: Immerse them briefly in a large bowl of water and agitate to dislodge all the sand. You can halve them lengthwise for easier cleaning. Morels are especially delicious in cream sauces and scrambled eggs.
Cream to pale gray mushroom, with a fan shape and a subtle flavor of shellfish. They used to be wild only but are now cultivated. Look for smaller, younger oysters, since they become tough and bitter as they grow older. They weep a great amount of liquid so are best grilled, roasted or stir-fried. Cook oyster mushrooms just until heated through to preserve their silken texture.
Also known as cepe and bolete. Porcini (Italian for "little pigs") are indeed nicely plump, with a firm texture, sweet fragrance and full, earthy flavor. An uncultivated variety, they have caps similar to cremini in shape and color, but their stems are thick and swollen. Although popular in Europe, the fresh mushrooms are difficult to find in the United States, where dried porcini are used instead. They are excellent in soups, pasta sauces and risotto. Thinly slice young, fresh ones and dress with a simple vinaigrette.
A cultivated mushroom, the portobello is in fact a mature cremino, allowed to grow until the cap is about 6 inches wide and dark brown. Portobellos have a rich, smoky flavor and meaty texture. Leave the caps whole for grilling or roasting, or slice and sauté them to top pasta or polenta. Food mixed or cooked with portobello mushrooms will take on some of their color, turning an unpleasant gray, so prepare the mushrooms separately and add just before serving. The thick, tough stems should be removed and may be saved for stocks, soups or sauces.
The most popular mushroom in Japan and now widely cultivated. Buff to dark brown, they are available fresh and dried. Fresh shiitake should have smooth, plump caps, while better-quality dried ones will have pale cracks in the cap's surface. Dried shiitake and Chinese black mushrooms are interchangeable. Shiitake take well to grilling, roasting, stir-frying and sautéing. Remove their thin, tough stems before using.
Grown on straw left in rice paddies after harvest. These small, globe-shaped mushrooms have a distinct earthy flavor and a color ranging from beige to brown. Only available canned outside of Asia, they are a common addition to soups and stir-fries.
Tree or Wood Ear Mushroom
Smaller, more delicate variety of the cloud ear, resembling crinkled black flakes. They are used much like cloud ears.
The cultivated, all-purpose mushroom sold in grocery stores. They are sometimes called button mushrooms, although the term refers specifically to young, tender ones with closed caps. For general cooking, use the medium-size mushrooms with little or no gills showing. The large ones are excellent for stuffing.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)