CL.com Editor
October 19, 2009


Delicate and beautiful, Japanese mushrooms are a celebrated autumn food. They add distinct earthy flavors, interesting textures, and visual elegance to dishes from soups to stir-fries and rice dishes. While some families still forage for them in the wild, many varieties -- shiitake perhaps the most familiar -- are cultivated commercially.

Shiitakes are a staple in my kitchen. I add fresh ones to soups and stir-fries and steep dried shiitakes to create a woodsy dashi that's great for braising meats and vegetables. But I've always wanted to experiment with other types of Japanese mushrooms.

The opportunity arose when our Test Kitchens received a sample of maitake, bunashimeji, and eryngi mushrooms from Hokto Kinoko, a subsidiary of Japan's largest mushroom producer. This company began selling mushrooms grown at its California facility fairly recently.

Most of these varieties were new to me, so I did a bit of research and interviewed Yukari Sakamoto, a Japanese chef and blogger who is working on a book called Food Sake Tokyo. Here are a few highlights from what I've learned:

Maitake (my-TOCK-kay, aka "hen of the woods"): This ruffled fungus (shown above) grows in the mountains of northeastern Japan. Maitake means "dancing mushroom," because foragers allegedly did a little jig when they found them. Its distinctly rich and sultry flavor is great in stir-fries but not the best choice for clear soups, because it colors the broth a murky brown. Yukari says maitakes are great fried tempura-style or grilled in oil, salt, and pepper. Health note:.Read this interesting American Cancer Society article for info on maitakes and cancer treatment.

    Eryngii (eh-RIN-gee, aka king trumpet, king oyster, or eringi): With a whimsical shape like something out of a Japanese fairy tale, this thick-stemmed mushroom contributes umami -- the so-called fifth taste that lends many vegetarian dishes a meat-like savoriness. It can be sliced, sauteed, and served as a side dish, on salads, or in Italian-style pastas. When cooked, its texture is often compared to abalone.


    Bunashimeji (BOON-ah shih-MEH-gee, aka brown beech): Sold in clusters that could almost be called cute, this mushroom has a springy-crunchy texture and a mildly nutty flavor that makes it a prime candidate for all sorts of dishes. Individual stems or smaller clusters look dramatically pretty in soups, and their texture stands up well in stir-fried and sauteed dishes. They're wonderful in nabe (cook-at-the-table hot pot meals).

    Recipes: Here's a roundup of interesting mushroom recipes. I can't vouch for any of them personally, because I didn't use a recipe when experimenting. But I think if you stick with simple methods (sauteeing, grilling, stir-frying, adding to soups) you can't go wrong. 

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