For very many people “mushrooms” means button mushrooms only, possibly frozen or out of a can (yech!). Some of them might have seen shiitake on a menu once, put passed due to not being able to pronounce it.
For mushroom growers, deli owners and restaurateurs, this attitude is a real shame. Edible fungus ranges in flavor from subtle to meaty or woodsy and offers a number of different textures depending on species and preparation. People lumping all of them together means greatly limiting their enjoyment of food, but it’s perhaps understandable: nobody has ever bothered to educate their palate when it comes to eating fungus. As they learn more about the different varieties and ways to serve them, they might well become huge fans, not least because of mushrooms’ low calorie content and impressive nutritional value.
When to Serve a Mushroom Tasting Plate
If trying to turn people on to the possibilities of mushrooms, you will most likely be trying to impress relatively sophisticated diners. Those plastic trays you see at supermarkets, covered with whatever kind of preservative-laden, over-salted gunk is being promoted will most likely not impress them.
Unless serving food to a real gourmand, the actual taste and flavor make up only a small portion of the total experience. To really win a customer or friend over, you’ll have to do better and preferably in a way that makes them feel appreciated as individuals.
A mushroom platter can easily be combined with an elegant wine or beer tasting. Depending on how exactly they are prepared, anything from chardonnay to cabernet sauvignon can be paired with them. In a restaurant context, serving a free amuse-bouche with drinks will certainly be appreciated while costing the business relatively little, while several kinds of finger-food featuring mushrooms can be prepared ahead of time and plated at need.
Thinking About Presentation
When it comes to food of any kind, its appearance can easily ruin a great-tasting dish or save a mediocre one.
The best place to start when planning a tasting plate’s presentation is with the plateware itself. While there is no need to get overly cute in this regard, a plain white platter (or worse, something with a weird and confusing pattern) will not display your mushrooms at their best. One of the best and cheapest ways to impress in this regard is to buy planks and use a good-quality saw to cut them into attractive serving boards. Just know that all lumber is not suited for this: much of what your local hardware store stocks has probably been treated with chemicals including arsenic.
Aside from what you choose to display it on, a few basic rules can always be applied to present food well without having to use tweezers. There should be some space on the plate, but the portion size shouldn’t make it look like it was abandoned there by the rest of its family. Achieving height is always good – an ingredient such as untoppped bruschetta may be useful here. Having some color is essential, while garnishes such as basil leaves or sliced bell pepper also provide a contrast in terms of flavor and texture. Finally, for whatever reason, odd numbers of items simply seem more attractive than even.
Trying Different Preparation Methods
By now, everybody knows that mushrooms can be battered and deep-fried. If you want to impress your guests at home or at your business, you’ll need to go a little further.
Luckily, most diners are already so bored with creamy mushroom sauces, quiches and other well-known recipes that even a little ingenuity can make your tasting plate stand out. Consider marinating or caramelizing them, or using slightly exotic seasonings such as dried shrimp or even miso for an extra umami kick.
The only other thing to keep in mind is that the intention is to show off what mushrooms are capable of. They should therefore be the centerpoint of every bite, without too much baggage or sauces in which they can drown.