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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
ALTERNATE MUSHROOM: Oyster Mushroom