- Volvariella Volvacea
Open a can of straw mushrooms and out pops Walt Disney's "Danse Chinois" from the movie Fantasia. These are mushrooms with happy faces, brown straw hats, and dancing feet.
These jolly mushrooms are called Volvariella volvacea. Their common name comes from the rice straw on which they are grown. The straw mushroom, also called "paddy straw mushroom," is cultivated in the hot, steamy climate of Southeast Asia. Attempts to grow them in the southern United States so far have been unsuccessful. They are not widely eaten in the United States, but worldwide they rank third in consumption, just behind Agaricus bisporus (the common store mushroom) and Lentinus edodes (shiitake). Indeed, straw mushrooms have been used for food in China for two thousand years.
Baskets of fresh straw mushrooms can be found in the exotic marketplaces of southern China and Asia. They look like tan quail eggs. They are harvested in the "egg stage" before the caps have erupted from their confining universal veils. When sold in this condition they are called "unpeeled." Research has shown that these unopened caps contain a more nutritious balance of amino acids than when opened, suggesting that these mushrooms could supplement proteins lacking in the Asian diet. That is why this mushroom is seldom found "peeled," or in its mature state with the cap open.
In the United States, straw mushrooms are available in canned and dried forms. Canned mushrooms can be purchased in Asian markets. The labels of canned straw mushrooms usually state whether the contents are peeled or unpeeled. The unpeeled mushrooms are stronger in taste. Many companies sell the canned product with significant variations in taste and size. Dried mushrooms can be found in Chinese herbal outlets. These have a more intense flavor than those found in cans.
Cleaning: Drain and rinse the canned mushroom thoroughly before using. Discard the fluid.
Dried straw mushrooms require close examination. Make sure there are no insects present. The appearance and taste of the dried mushrooms are quite different from those of the canned varieties. Even after a cool-water rinse, their strong flavor persists.
Cooking: Experiment using unpeeled straw mushrooms in different dishes. Fluids held within the cocoon are released upon chewing, producing unusual flavors. Do not burn your mouth by eating them too hot, for the liquor inside retains the cooking heat. A slightly metallic "off taste" is found in some brands. Marinating with soy sauce and/or sherry helps to control this.
The peeled variety is mildly tasteful, and it is a delightful surprise to find one hidden under a snow pea in your favorite stir-fry creation. Add canned or dried mushrooms to your dish near the end of the cooking period. They merely need heating for a few minutes before eating.
Preserving: If you don't use an entire can of mushrooms, store the remaining portion in fresh water; it will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
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