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.
- Steak, Shiitake, and Bok Choy Stir Fry from Cooking Light. You could sub any of these mushrooms in for the shiitakes.
- Mushroom Rice (Kinoko takikomi gohan) from Just Hungry. This can work with any of these mushrooms, according to author Makiko Itoh, who blogs about cooking Japanese food outside of Japan. (Also see her vegan version.)
- Vegetarian Dashi from Cooking Light (a good soup base).
- Quinoa and Maitake Mushroom Pilaf from Hungry Cravings.
- Hokto Kinoko has a number of recipes on their site, both developed by the company and by various American chefs. (Most of them are more Western than Japanese.)