Lots of demand in California for record mushroom crop

Poached salmon soup with udon and mushrooms
Poached salmon soup with udon and mushrooms The Washington Post

Mushrooms can grow on you. For mushroom farmers and nutritionists, that’s a good thing.

According to experts, demand for the tasty fungi keeps, well, mushrooming as consumers discover more varieties to try in different ways.

“Mushroom demand keeps growing year after year,” said Bob Murphy, vice president of Premier Mushrooms in Colusa. “It’s challenging to fill orders; people keep wanting more.”

Demand peaks during November, prompted in part by mushroom stuffing and other holiday favorites. But year-round, mushrooms can find their way into almost any savory food.

“This year in the U.S., growers will harvest more than 1 billion pounds,” said Murphy, who also serves on the industry’s Mushroom Council for North America. “That’s our biggest harvest ever. And we still don’t have enough for American consumers.”

In recent years, mushroom consumption has steadily climbed, he noted. The average American eats about 2 pounds of mushrooms a year. To meet that demand, more mushrooms are imported from Canada and Mexico.

“California has the highest mushroom consumption of any state in the U.S.,” Murphy said. “Not everyone likes mushrooms, but Californians eat mushrooms. They like them in all sorts of things. That’s why we introduce a lot of new products here; there are so many foodies. They’re also interested in healthy eating.”

And that’s where mushrooms – particularly the oversized portobello – have found their niche. Because they soak up flavors without adding fat or cholesterol, mushrooms have blossomed into a versatile meat substitute.

“Mushrooms are the first vegetable to become center plate, the main course at restaurants,” Murphy said. “It started with portobello burgers and portobello steaks. They became an acceptable alternative for people who want that meaty flavor, that experience of eating a thick steak, but without the down side of red meat. The portobello created a window to introduce other mushroom products.”

Technically, mushrooms are not vegetables (they are varieties of edible fungus, not plants), but they are treated like them, especially in culinary uses.

A mushroom-burger blend will be coming soon to supermarkets, Murphy said. “For people who want to cut back on red meat, they could try a blend burger, 50-50 beef and mushrooms. By cutting meat by 50 percent, you cut fat, calories and cholesterol by 50 percent, too – but you give up nothing on taste. The whole (mushroom) industry is working on this.”

That same concept can be used to stretch meatloaf or meatballs with mushrooms, cutting fat and calories while retaining flavor and mouthfeel.

It borrows from an old idea – mushrooms have always made meat go farther. Ancient Chinese, Greeks and Romans included mushrooms in their diets. Easily preserved through drying, mushrooms could provide additional nutrition during cold winter months. Added to stews or soups, they add heartiness and earthy flavor that mimics meat.

In the United States, almost two-thirds of all mushrooms are grown in Pennsylvania, Murphy said. That state became a haven for mushrooms because of its many caves, a natural habitat for this unusual crop.

“Mushrooms like it dark and damp – just like in a cave,” he said. “That’s why Pennsylvania became the mushroom state.”

While mushrooms are an ancient food, breakthroughs in farming methods have made mushrooms a crop of the future. Developed by European growers, new technology has allowed farms such as Premier Mushrooms to grow more mushrooms faster year-round with less waste.

“Our grow rooms are extremely high-tech,” Murphy said. “There’s only two farms like it in the U.S. (The other is in Maryland.) We’ve been in operation for 10 years and we’ve quadrupled the size of our farm.”

Since its first harvest in 2007, Premier went from 16 growing rooms and 34 employees to 64 growing rooms and more than 250 employees. “We’ve become the largest year-round employer in Colusa County,” he said. “Unlike seasonal crops, we harvest mushrooms every day every week – even Christmas.”

That adds up to 300,000 pounds of mushrooms a week.

Traditionally, mushrooms were grown in coastal areas of California where temperatures hovered around 60 degrees and humidity stayed constant, Murphy noted. “With technology, we can grow anywhere. We control the temperature, humidity, fresh air flow, CO2, light. We can be consistent for our customers.”

The darkened grow rooms contain large aluminum beds, filled 6 inches deep with growing medium – wheat straw layered with composted chicken manure and topped with peat moss.

“Everything on the farm is pasteurized to keep out any bad bugs or bacteria,” Murphy noted. “We steam clean everything (after three grow cycles), which means we can run the farm virtually chemical free.”

Premier grows the three most popular mushrooms: white button, crimini and portobello. All are strains of the same species, Agaricus bisporus.

“The difference between a crimini and a portobello is about three days,” Murphy said. “The portobellos are just big criminis. (Once mushrooms reach a certain stage), they double in size every 24 hours.”

A new mushroom crop is ready for harvest in eight weeks, he added. “Mushrooms follow a schedule. You can time the harvest, from eight weeks out, usually within eight hours. It’s amazing. How many crops can do that?”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Baked cheesy pasta casserole with wild mushrooms

Serves 4-6 as a side

This casserole can be prepared almost entirely in advance before the final bake; add a few minutes oven time if it’s cold from the refrigerator. Sprigs of thyme can be substituted for the rosemary if desired. Adapted from The New York Times.

1 pound mixed wild or cultivated mushrooms, such as oyster, maitake and shiitake

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper, more as needed

2 fresh rosemary branches

1/2 pound orecchiette, farfalle or other short pasta

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup fresh ricotta

5 ounces fontina or Gruyere cheese, grated (1 1/4 cups)

2 ounces Parmesan, grated (1/2 cup)

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage

1 garlic clove, finely grated

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Trim the mushrooms and cut into 1-inch pieces. Toss with the olive oil, salt, a few grinds of pepper and the rosemary branches. Spread on a large baking sheet and roast, tossing once or twice, until golden brown and crisped around the edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Discard rosemary.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for at least a few minutes less than the package directs. (You want the pasta very al dente; it will finish softening in the sauce.) Drain well.

Turn oven up to 500 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together the cream, ricotta, fontina or Gruyere, Parmesan, sage, pepper, garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir in the pasta and mushrooms. Arrange in a shallow 2-quart gratin dish or 13-by-9-inch pan. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly and browned in spots, 10 to 15 minutes.

Poached salmon soup with udon and mushrooms

Serves 2

This soup is light and quick, yet there’s enough in it to satisfy. And this recipe might give you a new way to enjoy salmon. Serve with a salad of butter lettuce greens. Adapted from “The Gourmet Kitchen,” by Jennifer Farley.

8 ounces dried udon noodles (may substitute ramen or soba noodles)

1 clove garlic

4 ounces cremini mushrooms (may substitute button mushrooms)

2 scallions

8 ounces skinned salmon fillet

2 tablespoons white miso

1 cup boiling water

2 cups homemade or no-salt-added chicken or vegetable broth

1 teaspoon oyster sauce

1/2 teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar

1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Bring a pot of water to a boil over medium high heat. Add the udon noodles and cook according to the package directions. Drain.

Boil a kettle of water. Meanwhile, smash and peel the garlic. Brush off or clean the mushrooms, then trim or stem them, as needed. Cut into thin slices. Cut the white and light-green parts of the scallions into thin slices. Cut the salmon into 1-inch cubes.

Dissolve the miso in the cup of boiling water; pour that liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the broth, garlic, oyster sauce and rice vinegar. Once the mixture starts bubbling, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the mushrooms and salmon; cook for 15 minutes, then remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the scallion, toasted sesame oil and the cooked udon noodles. Discard the garlic. Let sit for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.

Grilled mushroom and barley pilaf

Serves 7-8 as a side

The pilaf can stand on its own for lunch, or pair it with sliced steak, roast chicken, grilled salmon or grilled tofu for dinner. It is best served warm or at room temperature the day it is made. Recipe from Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.

1 cup dried pearled barley

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound large mushrooms: a combination of portobello mushroom caps cut into 1/2-inch strips, oyster mushrooms separated into individual petals or small clusters of petals, and white mushrooms stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch slices

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives


Freshly ground black pepper

Cook the barley according to the package directions. Meanwhile, combine the garlic and oil in a small nonstick sauté pan or skillet and heat on medium-high. Once the garlic starts to sizzle, reduce the heat to low or medium-low, adjusting it as needed so the garlic cooks slowly but does not brown. Cook for 10 minutes, then remove the pan or skillet from the heat.

Prepare the grill for direct heat, or heat a nonstick griddle or grill pan over medium-high heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (450 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area. For a medum-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 to 5 seconds.

Brush the mushroom slices with some of the garlic oil. Transfer them to the grill grate, or use a grill basket to prevent smaller pieces from falling through the grate. Cover the grill and cook, checking every minute or so and turning them to cook evenly, until the mushrooms are cooked through and nicely browned. (If using a grill pan or griddle indoors, place the slices on the preheated pan and cook uncovered.)

Watch the mushrooms carefully: They will cook quickly, especially the oyster mushrooms. Cut the cooked mushrooms into 1/2-inch pieces. Pour the cooked barley into a colander to drain off any excess water; transfer the barley to a large bowl.

Add the mushrooms, the remaining garlic oil, the parsley and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and mix to thoroughly incorporate. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Rosti with mushrooms

Serves 6

Think of this as a Swiss take on latkes or even hash browns: The potatoes get crispy-lacy edges but stay soft on the inside so they soak up the mushroom juices. A poached egg adds richness and protein. Make Ahead: The formed potato patties can be refrigerated for up to 3 days before frying.

Adapted from “The Meat Free Monday Cookbook,” edited by Annie Rigg (Kyle Books).

5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

2 medium-to-large onions, finely chopped (about 3 cups)

3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 pounds cremini or button mushrooms trimmed and sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

6 large eggs

Chopped fresh chives, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the potatoes in a large pot of salted water over high heat; once the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes or just until a skewer goes partly in but the potato still resists in the center (par-cooked). Drain and let cool.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they are soft and starting to brown at the edges, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper, then scrape the onions into a mixing bowl.

Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, use the large-holed side of a box grater to coarsely grate them into the bowl with the onions. Add the parsley, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper and use your hands to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Shape into 12 patties and flatten slightly. Wipe out the skillet and return it to medium heat. Pour in 1 tablespoon of the oil. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding, pan-fry the rosti until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes per side. (Add more oil to the pan between batches as needed.) Transfer to a baking sheet and keep the fried rosti warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Wipe out the skillet again and place it over high heat. Pour in the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the mushrooms, garlic and thyme; cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms exude their liquid and then start to lightly brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper; taste, and add more if needed.

Wipe out the skillet again, then fill it with 2 to 3 inches of water. Add the vinegar. Bring it to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, so the water is gently bubbling. Working with one at a time, crack an egg into a measuring cup. Use a whisk to swirl the water, then quickly tip the egg into the vortex of water. Repeat with no more than 2 other eggs in the pan to avoid overcrowding.

Poach the eggs until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny, about 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining eggs.

To serve, set 2 rosti on each serving plate. Divide the mushrooms among the plates, and top each portion with a poached egg. Sprinkle with chives and serve right away.

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