Here are a few of the most popular edible mushroom varieties, from the common to wild:
Agaricus (white mushroom, button mushroom): Widely available; varies in color from white to light brown and in size from small to jumbo stuffer; plump and dome-shaped; pleasing flavor intensifies when cooked. Mature Agaricus with open veils have an intensely rich taste. Agaricus is quite versatile, being excellent for use both raw and cooked. Also available canned and dried.
Chanterelle (girolle): Vase-shaped; ranging in color from bright yellow to orange; nutty and delicate flavor and texture; expensive when fresh; also available dried and canned. Add late in the cooking process to avoid toughening. Use in salads, sauces and risottos.
Crimini (Italian brown): Naturally dark cap that ranges in color from light tan to rich brown; rich, earthy flavor is more intense than that of the Agaricus. Substitute for button mushrooms to add a more full-bodied flavor.
Shiitake (oak mushroom; Chinese black mushroom; forest mushroom; golden oak): ranging in color from tan to dark brown; characterized by broad, umbrella shaped caps up to ten inches in diameter, wide open veils and tan gills; rich, full-bodied flavor, almost steak-like, with a meaty texture when cooked. These are best when cooked in almost any method, particularly sautéing, broiling and baking. Remove stems before cooking but reserve them for soup stocks.
Oyster: Fluted cap resembles a fan; ranging in color from a soft beige brown to gray; can be eaten raw in salads but more often this mushroom is cooked to bring out its delicate flavor and velvety texture. Some say this mushroom has a faint oyster-like or seafood flavor, to match its likeness in shape to oysters.
Portabello/Portabella: Largest of the commercially available mushrooms with a tan/brown cap, it's the mature version of the crimini. Its popularity derives from a brilliant marketing campaign in the 1980's to sell these perceived "over-mature" common mushrooms. Its long growing cycle gives a deep, meat-like flavor, and substantial texture. They are good whole, sliced, grilled, baked, stir-fried and deep-fried. Be sure to trim off the dry, fibrous portion of the stem.
Porcini (cepes; boletes; boletus; steinpilze; singular tense: porcino): Resembles the traditional fairytale toadstool; weighing from a couple of ounces to a pound each with caps from one to ten inches in diameter; smooth, meaty texture; pungent in flavor; pale brown color; very expensive; many general cooking uses. Also available dried.
Morel (black morel): A relative of the highly-prized truffle; tan to dark-brown, cone-shaped, spongey; smoky, earthy, nutty flavor; expensive and also available canned and dried. The darker the mushroom, the more pronounced is the flavor. This mushroom must be cleaned well when fresh due to its dimpled head.