Exotic mushrooms delight the eye and the palate

January 6, 2023

One of the food trends forecast for the year ahead – as predicted by internet bloggers, popular chefs and self-proclaimed foodies – is a focus on plant-based eating. Reasons include healthier meal choices, kindness to the planet and a preference for organic, locally sourced ingredients. If we eliminate meat, mushrooms are one of the best substitutes for a hearty main course or side dish.

The following varieties of mushrooms are in the photo, starting at left and moving clockwise: king oyster, also called king trumpet; pearl oyster or hiratake; maitake, known as hen of the woods; and shiitake. They each have their own flavor and texture profiles, as well as preferred cooking techniques.

King oyster mushrooms are unique among their mushroom cousins, since they grow individually instead of in clusters. They have very thick, white stems and small tan caps. Unlike most mushrooms, the stems are the prize, with a rich umami flavor and chewy texture. These are often cut crosswise into round slices that resemble scallops or sliced lengthwise and sautéed in a skillet or roasted in the oven.

Pearl oyster mushrooms grow close together in large clusters that resemble open oyster shells; they are also found in colors such as grey, blue, yellow and pink. You can remove the clusters from the main stem and cut them into bite-size pieces, as in the pasta recipe below. Some treat the main stem as you would a beef steak, to create a meaty centerpiece for a plant-based meal. The oyster-shaped mushrooms have a delicate texture and savory flavor.

Maitake mushrooms have the charming nickname “hen of the woods” for their unusual shape that resembles the tail feathers of a chicken. They are also called sheep’s head or ram’s head mushrooms, and they have a woodsy flavor and succulent texture that fit into a wide array of recipes. Select maitakes that are plump, firm and fresh, not dried out. Store them in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Brush off any dirt particles with a damp paper towel or gently with your fingers.

Shiitake mushrooms have a generous cap and very slender stalk which is typically discarded, as it can be woody and tough. They have been prized for centuries for their micronutrients and beneficial compounds. Commercial mushroom powder found as a dietary supplement is derived from dried shiitakes. Hearty and flavorful, these work well in a simple roasted preparation or to add rich texture to soups and stews.

No matter which variety of mushroom you select, you can enjoy their low-calorie, high-fiber, nutrient-rich umami flavor in a wide selection of recipes.

Sautéed King Oyster Mushrooms

6 small king oyster mushrooms
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 minced garlic clove
1 sliced green onion
salt & pepper, to taste

Cut off the caps and slice the stems into half-inch-thick rounds; set aside. Combine olive oil and butter in a skillet and heat over medium low. Once butter has melted, add mushroom pieces and cook until golden, about 3 minutes each side. Add garlic and green onion; cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot. Yield: 4 servings.

Oyster Mushroom Pasta

1/2 lb pappardelle pasta
1 lb oyster mushrooms
3 T butter
3 chopped garlic cloves
1/2 C heavy cream
1/4 C chopped parsley
salt & pepper, to taste
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water; drain and save 1/2 C of pasta water. While pasta cooks, separate the mushroom caps from the main stems and cut into bite-sized pieces. Reserve the stems for another recipe. Melt 1 T butter in a skillet over medium and arrange mushrooms in a single layer. Fry until golden on both sides; transfer cooked mushrooms to a plate. Continue cooking the remaining mushrooms, adding butter before each batch. When all the mushrooms are cooked, return them to the pan along with garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add reserved pasta water, cream and parsley. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cooked pasta and cook for a minute or two. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan. Yield: 4 servings.

Maitake & Wild Rice Salad

1/2 C walnut pieces
2 T olive oil
2 T minced onion
6 oz maitake mushrooms
1 t lemon juice
1 C cooked wild rice
1 T snipped chives
salt & pepper, to taste

Place the walnut pieces in a dry skillet; toast over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool. Add olive oil to skillet over medium heat; add onions and cook for about a minute. Roughly chop the mushrooms and add to the skillet; cook for about 3 minutes. Stir in the walnuts and lemon juice; remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer rice to a serving bowl and add mushroom mixture. Toss to combine and garnish with chives. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Yield: 4 servings.

Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms

4 T olive oil
1 T rice wine vinegar
1 t salt
1/4 t white pepper
1 sprig thyme
1 lb shiitake mushrooms
2 T chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Strip the leaves from the thyme sprig into the bowl. Trim stems from the mushrooms and add caps to the bowl. Toss to combine. Arrange the mushrooms in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 20 minutes. Garnish with parsley. Yield: 4 servings.

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