Wild About Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake Mushrooms

When my husband and I went upstate a few weeks ago, we stopped at a farm stand on the side of the road. I bought lots of produce, including shiitake mushrooms. Since then, I’ve been pretty obsessed. I like to sauté them in butter with sea salt and pepper, sometimes adding goat cheese. It’s a quick little meal with so much flavor power. The taste is rich, smokey and “meaty”. Interestingly, shiitake contains many of the same amino acids as meat, perhaps that’s why it has a savory flavor. Unlike other mushrooms, the shiitake contains less water which makes for a firm texture.  I’ve also learned the smaller ones are better to use for cooking. They cook faster and are less chewy. Also remove the stems, they’re too ”woody” to eat. With all mushrooms, don’t rinse, use a damp paper towel to remove dirt if needed. Cook in a skillet on medium heat with butter and add a splash of water for steam.

There are two ways the mushrooms are grown – in sawdust or straw in a controlled environment inside or harvested on logs in a forest. As you might guess, the latter method produces a more flavorful mushroom. Log-grown shiitake can be identified by a rounder, darker brown cap. The indoor counterparts are lighter in color with a flatter top.

Shiitake is packed with antioxidants, vitamin B and lots of fiber and low in carbs. Some studies have found extracts from the mushroom may help fight cancer.

Over the past 20 years  farming shiitake mushrooms has become easier as techniques have been streamlined and so the mushrooms are readily available now.  In New York, I’ve noticed shiitake mushrooms have become more and more popular. Many restaurants and eateries use the mushroom in veggie burgers for the texture and rich flavor I mentioned. In fact, our very own Cuisine by Claudette makes a lovely shiitake Lentil Burger. They serve it on a toasted bun with vegan provolone, tomato and pickles. It’s outrageously delicious.

“Shii” means trees and “take” is the Japanese word for mushroom. It simply translates to tree mushroom. Shiitake mushrooms originate in China and Japan and has been cultivated for food and medicinal uses for over 2,000 years!

If I’ve enticed you, find shiitake mushrooms in the Key Food on 89th or The Rockaway Farmers Market on 116th Street. They are so versatile, try them sautéed, in a stir fry, in soup over chicken or beef gravy — you name it!

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Previously published in The Wave.