Wild About Mushrooms

From soups to entrees, these fungi are versatile menu additions.

The Mushroom Council's mushroom and vegetables
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With increased awareness beyond the common mushrooms, many operators are incorporating exotic mushroom varieties, such as shiitake, trumpet, porcini, morel, chanterelles and truffles into dishes.

“We make a nice chanterelle à la crème with Viennese bread dumplings,” says M. Werner Edler, executive chef of catering at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. “We use veal stock, shallots, butter and heavy cream. You can make it with different mushrooms, like portobello, but chanterelles are special. They go well with veal, venison, chicken and eggs. They are also good just sautéed or creamed with fresh herbs.”

At the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Eric Webb, director of dining services, says the department serves a variety of mushrooms, including crimini. Crimini mushrooms are brownish versions of the common button mushroom. A portobello is a larger, more mature crimini.

“We use crimini or basic sliced button mushrooms,” says Webb. “One of our biggest uses for mushrooms is on the Mongolian Grill, where [customers] can pick out their choice of toppings, including mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrot shavings and various vegetables, [along with] a choice of protein and rice or noodles.”

Innovative uses: Mushrooms also can be used in unconventional ways to add flavor to traditional dishes. At Emory University, in Atlanta, Michel Wetli, general manager/executive chef for Sodexo, makes a mushroom sauce atop a smothered burger with melted cheese that is popular on campus. “We’ll cook down portobello mushrooms with white wine, fresh garlic, shallots, thyme, oregano, basil and a beef demi-glace. It makes a light sauce that we add to a burger with melted Swiss cheese.”

Wetli says the department also does a lot of high-end dishes for catering, for which he creates a mushroom dust.

“We like to take dehydrated fresh shiitakes and turn them into mushroom dust or powder,” Wetli says. “We take an 18-to-20-ounce block of New York strip and roll it in the powder and other spices and cut it in half to serve. We’ll also use the dust on risotto and as an accent on pasta dishes. We’ve used portobello, trumpet, porcini, enoki and just about any mushroom we can get our hands on.”

At Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, dining services serves an artichoke and portobello pizza with fontina and gruyere cheese, garnished with fresh herbs at the campus’s Italian restaurant.

“[It’s] one of the more popular dishes featuring mushrooms,” says Jon Brubacher, manager of food purchasing and operations analyst. “We also serve a wild blend mushroom pizza, consisting of a dried blend of mushrooms, reconstituted in sherry and balsamic vinegar. [We use] mozzarella and provolone, and the pizza is also seasoned with fresh herbs. There is a rustic pasta that consists of fettuccine, the wild blend mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh herbs.” Grilled salmon or chicken breast can also be added.

Health benefits: Mushrooms contain protein, potassium, phosphorous and vitamins B, C, K and E. Mushrooms are often the star in vegan and vegetarian entrées in many dining operations, such as at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

“We will be hosting the finale dinner for the NACUFS Northeastern Conference,” says Justin Lizotte, sous chef at Tufts. “Since the theme will be a New England clambake, we were immediately challenged to come up with a vegetarian or vegan option that wouldn’t be overshadowed by lobster. The idea of a pot pie was mentioned, and my first thought was mushrooms. What else could have such versatility, complexity and heartiness to stand up to the rest of the menu? So playing with the lobster Newburg concept, I came up with a vegan summer mushroom pot pie. I used lobster, oyster and chanterelle mushrooms. To keep it vegan I made a vidalia onion purée and used basmati rice to thicken it. The dish is finished with fresh local veggies and fine herbs. ”

Portobello mushrooms are especially good for health-conscious customers as they contain no fat or sodium, are high in fiber and low in calories. At Northern Michigan University, Nathan Mileski, corporate executive chef, says he has had good success with mushrooms.

“We featured a morel mushroom soup where we sweat onions and garlic, then add button morels and vegetable stock,” Mileski says. “We puréed that and added heavy cream, salt and pepper. We sautéed the chunks of morel to add texture and a punch of flavor.

“We also marinated and grilled portobello caps,” Mileski adds. “We clean the gills and peel the outside. The marinade consists of olive oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley and freshly squeezed lemon. After marinating overnight, we drain and grill the caps to order. We serve them like burgers, on a bun with a choice of toppings.

Another mushroom option are Spanish-style tapas with whole button morels. “We sauté them with red chiles, olive oil, a little wine and garlic,” Mileski says. “At the very end we add chopped parsley.”