Shiitake mushrooms are small to medium in size with caps averaging 10-20 centimeters in diameter and are attached to thin stems. The caps range in color from light to dark brown and have a wide, umbrella shape with a characteristic curled rim. Inside, the cream-colored flesh is firm, chewy, and spongy. Underneath the cap, the white gills are tightly arranged, are not attached to the stem, and depending on the maturity, there may also be a thin veil covering the gills. The ivory to light brown stem is smooth, tough, and fibrous. When cooked, Shiitake mushrooms release a garlic-pine aroma and have a savory, earthy, and smoky, umami flavor.
Wild Shiitake mushrooms are available in the spring through early fall, while the cultivated versions are available year-round.
Shiitake mushrooms, botanically classified as Lentinula edodes, are the second most commonly consumed mushroom in the world after the button mushroom and are members of the Marasmiaceae family. Also known as Dongo, Shanku, Black Forest mushroom, Shiang-gu, Oak mushroom, and Black mushroom, Shiitake mushrooms grow in clusters on dead hardwoods including shii, beech, maple, oak, and poplar. In Japan, there are two general types of Shiitake mushrooms including the donko, which is a highly valued mushroom that is more round with thick flesh and the koshin, which is a mushroom with a thinner flesh and an open cap. Donko Shiitake mushrooms are prized for their medicinal value as the cap is only partially open and retains more of the spores. Today Shiitake mushrooms are cultivated worldwide and are valued for their umami flavor and chewy, dense texture.
Shiitake mushrooms contain vitamins A, B2, B12, C, and D, iron, calcium, copper, selenium, zinc, and manganese.
Shiitake mushrooms are best suited for cooked applications such as frying, sautéing, boiling, steaming, and grilling. Although Shiitake mushrooms are a cultivated variety, their umami, earthy flavor and texture lend itself to be a substitute in recipes calling for wild mushrooms. They can be sliced and used in stir-fries, miso soup, vegetarian dashi, stuffed and steamed, cooked in omelets, mixed into pasta, or fried. They can also be dried and rehydrated for extended use or dried and ground into a powder as a flavoring agent for soups, stocks, and sauces. Shiitake mushrooms pair well with marjoram, thyme, cilantro, spinach, mustard greens, eggplant, broccoli, peas, ramps, carrots, bell pepper, baby corn, water chestnuts, potatoes, onion, green onion, garlic, ginger, poultry, pork, lamb, shrimp, rice, barley, pasta, soy sauce, and dry red wine. They will keep 1-2 weeks when stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator.