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Shiitake

Lentinus edodes

This mushroom is the second most widely cultivated mushroom in the world. It has been a popular food source in the cuisine of Asia for hundreds of years. In America, we have enjoyed it in Chinese and Japanese restaurants. Following recent improvements in cultivating techniques, it is rapidly becoming a favorite in markets and on dining tables in the United States and Canada. In addition, people can now grow it at home using simple kits prepared by mushroom specialty companies.

Shiitake -- Click for larger image

The shiitake has a medium-sized, umbrella-shaped, tan to brown cap. The edges of the cap roll inwards. The underside and stem are white. You will find many variations when you shop for this mushroom.

It has been estimated that the origin of shiitake mushrooms can be traced to the cretaceous period, over one hundred million years ago. It is found growing wild in the mountainous regions of China, Japan, Indonesia, and Taiwan. The scattering of shiitake spores has been traced using typhoon wind patterns as the mushrooms were dispersed from one to the other of these countries. It is not found wild in the United States or elsewhere.

In China it is called dongo and shanku. When served in Chinese restaurants here it is called "the black forest mushroom." The Japanese call the most highly prized and priced specimens donko. These have closed caps. Koshin types (spring season variety) have open caps and are less expensive.

The Chinese were the first to cultivate this mildly fragrant mushroom more than six hundred years ago. Yield and quality varied from year to year until scientific techniques were developed. Japanese scientists developed a method of inserting pencil-shaped plugs of mycelial spawn grown from specially selected varieties of Lentinus edodes into holes bored in oak logs. Carefully watched over in the forest, the prepared logs carried out the work that supported the entire shiitake industry. Today it is grown in the United States as well as in Asian countries on a variety of materials containing cellulose, such as sawdust enriched with rice bran. It is sold fresh as well as dried.

In Japan and China the chemicals found in shiitakes have been analyzed for medicinal properties. Extracts have been used in treating cancer, and claims have been made that they reduce cholesterol, enhance sexual power, prolong life, kill viruses, and improve circulation. Most people will be skeptical of such panaceas, but at the very least, this is the most enjoyable way of taking medicine we have experienced. Read Mushrooms As Health Foods by Kisaku Mori if you want to know more about the subject (see Bibliography).

Shop with care when purchasing dried shiitakes, since there are many grades and prices. The caps may be thick and fleshy, or thin; large or small; cracked on top or smooth. The very thick, cracked-topped donko types are expensive, but worth the price. They are meaty and can stand up to any food.

In the United States bottled extracts of shiitake are sold for medicinal purposes, and it is packaged as a powder.

Cleaning

Because shiitakes grow on wood or other coarse cellulose materials, the fresh mushrooms are very clean. Brush the caps lightly. As a rule, the stems are tough, so cut them off using a knife or scissors. The stems can be used to add flavor to stock.

Cooking

shiitake mushrooms will enhance the flavor of most foods, except, perhaps, baked ham. It is also tasty by itself, cooked several different ways. It accents vegetables, meats, seafood, poultry, and even other mushrooms. The classic way of handling dried caps is to simmer them in water with a little soy sauce to make a shiitake bouillon. Added to a light cream sauce, the shiitake is ideal for flavoring pasta dishes.

Reconstitute dried mushrooms by soaking in hot or boiling water for 20 minutes. Save the liquid to include with your food for another dish. Pour off the liquid at the top to separate it from any debris at the bottom of the dish in which it was soaked.

Preserving

When dried, they store well in closed glass containers.


Steamed Stuffed shiitakes

Serves 12 as an appetizer

Prepare these mushrooms in a container that fits into a steamer. Save the rich juice and pour it over white rice.

  • 24 large dried shiitakes, stems removed
  • 1/2 pound ground lean pork
  • 1 green onion, sliced fine
  • 1 small slice fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 1 egg white, slightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Soak the mushrooms for 15 minutes in hot water to cover. Drain and squeeze dry; reserve the soaking liquid.

Mix the pork, green onion, ginger, soy sauce, sherry, egg white, and cornstarch.

Mound the stuffing into the mushroom caps. Place in a heatproof dish that will fit into your steamer. Steam for 20 to 25 minutes. Toss the cilantro on top.

--Louise Freedman

ALTERNATE MUSHROOM: Common Store Mushroom


Nancy's Mushroom Soup

Serves 4 to 6 as a first course

The flavor of shiitakes is outstanding. In this soup, dried shiitakes are cooked with common store mushrooms.

  • 5 cups beef broth
  • 2/3 cup barley, rinsed
  • 7 to 10 dried shiitakes, stemmed and rinsed
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 7 to 10 common store mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup dry wine wine
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper

Bring the beef broth, barley, dried shiitakes, and potatoes to a boil; reduce to a simmer.

In a sautÚ pan or skillet, sautÚ the onion and common store mushrooms in the butter until the onion is translucent. Mix in the flour and stir for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the white wine and add the thyme. Gradually stir this mixture into the soup using a whisk to prevent lumps from forming. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Continute to simmer the soup for 20 minutes or until the barley becomes soft.

--Nancy M. Connolly


Chicken Breasts with shiitakes

Serves 4 as a main course

  • 4 single chicken breasts, skinned and boned
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 12 dried shiitakes, stemmed and rinsed
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • One 1/2-inch slice fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or more

Rub the chicken breasts with lemon juice. Arrange the chicken in a baking dish and bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a preheated 400║ oven or until the breasts are brown and juicy. Turn the chicken occasionally while cooking.

While the chicken breasts are cooking, pour the 1-1/2 cups water into a medium saucepan. Add the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and the mushrooms. Simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes. Adjust the taste. If too salty, add more water. If not, add soy sauce.

Place 3 caps over each breast on individual plates and spoon the sauce over each breast.

--Louise Freedman


Chicken in Red Wine with shiitakes

Serves 5 or 6 as a main course

  • 12 small dried or 7 fresh shiitakes, stemmed
  • One 4- to 5-pound roasting hen, cut into serving pieces
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 5 to 6 bacon slices, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 10 boiling onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Soy sauce to taste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste

If using dried mushrooms, rinse them and set aside. Dredge the chicken in the flour. Fry the bacon in a sautÚ pan or skillet until crisp. Remove to a paper towel with a slotted spoon. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and brown on all sides. Transfer the chicken to baking dish with a cover. Add the onions, mushrooms, garlic, bacon, soy sauce, red wine, and salt and pepper. Cover and bake in a preheated 350║ oven for 1-1/2 hours or until the chicken is very tender.

--Louise Freedman

ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Boletes, Shaggy Parasol Mushroom


Szechwan Beef with shiitakes

Serves 4 to 6 as a main course

The black bean sauce in this recipe is a thick, salty paste made from fermented yellow soy beans. It is available in Asian markets, along with the Asian sesame oil. The shiitake mushroom blends well with this special sauce. Serve over rice.

  • One 1-pound skirt steak, sliced 1/8 inch thick across the grain
  • One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped or crushed
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped or crushed
  • One 3-inch dried hot red pepper, chopped
  • Fresh-ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1/2 pound shiitakes, stemmed
  • 1 tablespoon black bean sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon honey or sugar (optional)
  • 1/4 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • Dash of Asian sesame oil
  • 1 medium onion, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 pound asparagus or broccoli florets, cut 1/4 inch thick diagonally
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

In a bowl, combine the beef, ginger, garlic, red pepper, and black pepper. Add 1/4 cup of the sherry. Stir well and allow to marinate for 1 hour. Cut a shallow cross in the top of each shiitake and set aside. In a bowl, combine the bean sauce, cornstarch, honey, and beef broth.

Add 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil to a hot wok or skillet. When hot, add the meat and seasonings. Stir-fry over high heat until just past rare. Remove to a bowl. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons peanut oil and the sesame oil. Add the onion, vegetables, and shiitakes and stir-fry 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sherry and the soy sauce. Cover. Raise the heat and stir until slightly thickened.

--Rick Kerrigan

ALTERNATE MUSHROOM: Oyster Mushroom