Early spring is when chefs and food foragers head to the woods to harvest chanterelles, enoki, morel, puffball, shiitake, and wood ear mushrooms. They grow on the trees, on the forest lawn, and near creeks and lakes. Perhaps you do not belong to a mushroom-hunting club—yes, they exist!—or you prefer to pick your mushrooms without fighting stickers and bugs. Fear not. You will find plenty of exotic varieties in grocery stores and farmers markets all over Dallas.
My favorite place to buy wild and exotic mushrooms is Spiceman’s FM 1410. Owner/forager Tom Spicer has spent more than 30 years in the niche produce business. His Dimebag O’Shrooms is a terrific way to get out of your button-mushroom comfort zone. For $10, you get a bag filled with an 8-ounce mixture that could include black trumpet mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, chanterelles—whatever he has on hand that day.
Each type of mushroom provides a unique taste sensation. Versatile golden chanterelles have a fruity aroma and are wonderful sautéed simply in butter, oil, or cream. Pioppini, also known as beech or shimeji, are used extensively in Italian and Asian cuisines. They remain firm and nutty even after cooking. Hen-of-the-woods (maitake) mushrooms are a favorite of chefs for their woodsy, smoky aroma and flavor. My favorite mushroom is the hedgehog. They may look ordinary when compared to other wild mushrooms, but their intense flavor pairs perfectly with steak and rich pastas.
Each year, mushroom maniacs trumpet the arrival of morels. Their honeycomb shape and meaty texture make them excellent for the grill. (But whatever you do, don’t eat them raw; morels must be cooked before they are consumed.)
Lee Crenshaw, business development manager for produce at HEB and Central Market, offers a few tips for buying mushrooms. “Look for mushrooms that are heavy for their size,” Crenshaw says. “Make sure they are not bruised, and the veil (bottom) is still closed.” Avoid mushrooms that appear shriveled, which indicates they have lost their moisture.
While the discovery process can be exhilarating, the adventure can go astray if mushrooms aren’t cooked properly. Spicer believes the key to maximizing a mushroom is to not use it raw (see sidebar). “If you flash-cook a mushroom, you will get more flavor and hold on to the nutrients and medicinal qualities of mushrooms,” he says.