By Christina Kalinowski

Home cooks generally know the humble button mushroom, but more exotic varieties like chanterelle, morel and other gourmet options might be more of a mystery. Compared with the smooth-capped, mildly earthy button, the bold smoky and nutty flavors of the honeycombed morel or the fruity taste of the trumpet-shaped chanterelle may initially seem intimidating. But a little culinary know-how is all you need to create tasty dishes starring gourmet mushrooms.

Paxillus mushroom growing on the forest edge
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Group of mushrooms growing outside.


shiitake mushrooms being cultivated the traditional organic way
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Close-up of a shiitake mushroom growing outside.

Other names: forest mushrooms, Chinese black mushrooms Shiitake mushrooms are prized for their smoky, steak-like flavor and meaty, dark-brown caps. Their distinct, pleasing flavor makes shiitakes an excellent side dish on their own -- simply oven-roast, then sprinkle with salt -- or starring in dishes with bold flavors like stir-fries. Shiitakes may be purchased fresh or dried, but the stems are too tough for consumption; save them for flavoring soups or making stock. Can be substituted with: porcini, oyster, enoki or portobello mushrooms


Maitake mushrooms
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Two groups of maitake mushrooms growing in nature.

Other names: hen of the woods The rippled, fan shape of this wild mushroom is said to resemble that of the body of a hen, earning the maitake the moniker "hen of the woods." The woodsy flavor of the maitake makes it ideal for punching up the richness of any dish that calls for mushrooms, such as soups and stir-fries, though its flavor is best enjoyed as a stand-alone side dish. Sauté maitakes in butter or oil and serve. Can be substituted with: oyster mushrooms


concept detailed image showing delicate enoki mushrooms
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Close-up of enoki mushrooms.

Other names: snow puff mushroom, golden mushroom, velvet stem The delicate, fruity and delightfully crisp enoki possesses spaghetti-thin stems topped with petite, snowy-white caps that are best enjoyed raw; try them atop garden salads or tossed with lemon and sea salt. Enokis also make great garnishes atop hot dishes such as soups, but if you plan on incorporating them into a cooked dish add them toward the end of cooking as heat makes them tough.
Can be substituted with: oyster mushrooms or button mushrooms


fresh oyster mushrooms on a dead tree
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A clump of oyster mushrooms growing off of a tree.

Other names: oyster caps, tree mushrooms With a flavor reminiscent of that of seafood, raw oyster mushrooms are fairly robust and peppery. Oyster mushrooms benefit from cooking, which lessens their pungency. Their sturdy texture stands up to longer cooking times, making oyster mushrooms a great addition to stews. When purchasing, look for oyster mushrooms with caps that are no larger than 1 1/2 inches in diameter as the smaller specimens are considered the best tasting. Can be substituted with: enoki, chanterelle or button mushrooms


Golden chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)
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Small clump of chanterelle mushrooms growing outside.

Other names: girolle, Pfifferling The trumpet-shaped chanterelle possesses a delicate fruity, nutty flavor that instantly elevates any dish. Try pairing roasted or sautéed chanterelles with sweet meats such as pork or ham. When incorporating chanterelles into dishes such as stuffing, make sure to add them at the end of cooking to prevent them from becoming too tough. Fresh chanterelles can be difficult to locate if they aren't in season, but they are also available dried or canned. Can be substituted with: morel, oyster or button mushrooms


Morel Mushroom
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Close-up of a morel mushroom growing out of a tree.

Honeycomb-capped morels have a smoky, earthy, nutty flavor -- reminiscent of the ground they came out of -- that everyone from chefs to home cooks go crazy for. Morels are best enjoyed sautéed in butter, though they also make a great addition to sauces, as their intricate caps are the perfect vessels for trapping flavor. Morels can also be found canned or dried, with dried morels possessing an even more intense flavor than fresh ones. Can be substituted with: shiitake or chanterelle mushrooms


Mushrooms on moss
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Large group of porcini mushrooms growing in some moss.

Other names: cépes The meaty texture and rich, woodsy flavor make porcini a desirable addition to most any dish. Their large caps can be roasted or grilled whole; or diced and added to soups, stuffings and stews. Porcini can also be enjoyed raw and make a great addition to salads. If you're lucky enough to find them fresh, select porcini with large, firm caps. Porcini are more readily available dried, and must be softened in hot water for 20 minutes before use. Can be substituted with: portobello, oyster or chanterelle mushrooms


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Single blewit mushroom.

Other names: blue foot mushrooms, bluette mushrooms Similar in appearance to that of button mushrooms, blewits possess caps with distinct bluish lavender hues that turn tan with age. Blewit mushrooms have a very pleasant, albeit mild, flavor that pairs well with pork, fish and poultry, but is overpowered in boldly seasoned dishes. They are also excellent stewing mushrooms, but avoid eating blewits raw as they have been known to cause indigestion. Can be substituted with: shiitake or button mushrooms