We loved to hate them as kids. These weird little rubbery masses, sprouting up as if from nowhere, greedily invading all of our beloved foods like pizza. How dare they. But as our tastes evolved and we grew into adulthood, perhaps we gained a new appreciation for this strange little food. Maybe it was tasting it at a restaurant that wasn’t Pizza Hut for the first time. Perhaps it snuck its way onto your plate at a special event or party, and you took a bite, not recognizing at first your childhood culinary enemy. And then it was too late. You were lost in the woody, earthy, savory seduction that is the oyster mushroom.
Before you knew it, you were going back for seconds and thirds, enjoying each sinfully buttery bite of this exquisite little ingredient, and questioning your whole identity. Maybe it wasn’t nearly that dramatic and you’ve always just thought they were fine. Either way, the oyster mushroom is a massively under-appreciated little gem, and it’s time to turn that around. Let’s take a deeper look into this delicious little fungus.
Identifying oyster mushrooms
In most cases, oyster mushrooms grow on trees, usually on wood that is dead and decomposing (yum). This makes them fairly recognizable when they’re spotted growing in the woods. However, take care. While relatively easy to identify due to their large and beautiful fan shape and impressive gills, they do have some poisonous doppelgangers. For this reason, foraging for your own mushrooms is never advised unless you are with an experienced forager. Thanks to many plant-identifying apps these days, people have unfortunately become over-confident in their abilities to identify wild plants, sometimes with fatal consequences. If you’re untrained in the art of wild mushrooms, it’s best to leave your foraging to the produce section of the grocery store like the rest of us.
There are six types of oyster mushroom, each with its own special characteristics. Each type is delicious, with earthy, woody, umami notes. But the flavor differences are subtle, making them easily interchangeable in your recipes.
This is probably the most recognizable, commonly used oyster mushroom here in the United States. Slightly sweet, earthy, and woodsy, these mushrooms are mild and tender, and absolutely delicious in a variety of preparations.
Very similar in flavor to the Pearl, the Blue oyster mushroom is distinguishable by its notably blue color when it first starts to grow. As it ages, its color transforms into a silvery grey on top, with classically whitish gills. When cooking, treat it any way you would a Pearl.
Mainly found in Asia, the Golden oyster is striking in its beauty. Clusters of bright golden mushrooms spring from its base and give off a very distinct scent, comparable to anise. These are especially tasty when fried.
Vibrantly coral-colored and ruffled, Pinks are native to the tropics as they thrive in warmer temperatures. Their scent and flavor are strongly woody, and wonderful when used in a braise or soup. Just don’t count on their flamboyant color to stick around — it fades to golden when cooked.
Easily confused with the Pearl, the Phoenix varies only slightly from its cousin. Phoenixes are also slightly smaller and paler than Pearls. Their bodies are slightly thicker as well, helping them stand up to more intense cooking methods. These are wonderful when stir-fried.
The King oyster looks nothing at all like other oyster mushrooms. With a more classic shape, the King has a thick, sturdy stem and traditional brown/white color combination. It also differs from its cousins in the way it grows — in the ground, rather than attached to trees. The flavor of the King is meaty and savory, with a sturdy structure that can take the heat.
Health benefits of oyster mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms naturally contain a high amount of statins, which reduce high cholesterol levels. Recent studies have also shown that oyster mushrooms, incredibly, have an anti-tumor effect on the body due to their polysaccharides. A polysaccharide is a complex carbohydrate composed of sugar molecules, thought to stimulate the cancer-fighting abilities in our immune systems. If you ask us, those are pretty remarkable health benefits for a little fungus.
How to store oyster mushrooms
Always store oyster mushrooms in the refrigerator. If your mushrooms are store-bought, they can most likely be kept in the store’s packaging for up to 5 days. If they are shrink-wrapped, poking a few holes in the plastic will buy you another day or two of freshness. If your mushrooms are fresh from harvesting, they can be kept in a loosely-closed plastic bag for up to 8 days. Another thing to note is their location in your fridge. Because mushrooms are so porous and absorb flavor so readily, avoid setting them near any particularly pungent foods like raw onions or fish.
How to clean oyster mushrooms
Unlike most mushrooms, oysters (for the most part) grow on wood, rather than in the ground, so they should generally be a little cleaner than other types. The cleaning process is the same as with other mushrooms, though, and is very important. Never rinse or submerge your mushrooms in water as they will quickly become water-logged and lose all of their delicate flavor. It’s best to simply wipe them down with a damp cloth or paper towel, taking care not to leave any excess moisture behind.
How to cook oyster mushrooms
Because of their subtle flavor, oyster mushrooms are tremendously versatile and easy to cook with. Toss them in a salad, on a pizza, in your soups, stews, and sauces. They really do have such a beautiful flavor, however, that they stand magnificently on their own as a side dish, as in this recipe below.
Sautéed oyster mushrooms with garlic butter recipe
(From Family Style Food)
This recipe truly lets the beauty of the oyster mushroom shine. Simply accented with a bit of herby garlic butter, these mushrooms are exquisite all on their own, or served over pasta. They are also wonderful folded into an omelette for breakfast, or tossed into a wrap at lunchtime.
- 10 ounces oyster mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
- Gently clean mushrooms using a damp paper towel, removing all excess dirt and moisture.
- Chop into bite-sized pieces.
- Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat, then add the oil to the pan.
- When oil is hot, add mushrooms to the pan in a single layer. Cook, without turning, until one side is golden brown. Repeat with another batch of mushrooms if necessary.
- Remove mushrooms from pan, and place onto serving platter. With the pan off the heat, add butter, garlic and parsley to the pan, swirling until the butter is melted and garlic is fragrant.
Pour butter and garlic mixture over the mushrooms and serve.
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