Oyster mushrooms are an especially prized member of the family of fungi, found in many world cuisines. This guide to delicious oyster mushrooms will explore their versatility, with tips, ideas, links to recipes. You might even consider growing your own, right in your kitchen!
Given their incredible versatility, bold savory taste, and proven health benefits, oyster mushrooms deserve a place on your plate. They’re one of the most common of cultivated mushrooms, growing in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors.
What are Oyster Mushrooms?
Named for their wide, delicate, fan-shaped caps with feathery gills that resemble their namesake, oyster mushrooms easily predate recorded history. It’s hard to pinpoint where the first wild oyster mushrooms flourished, but there’s strong evidence that they originated somewhere near Eastern Europe.
Germans get the credit for being the first to successfully cultivate oyster mushrooms in 1917, as a subsistence measure to provide more affordable food sources during the scarcities of the first World War. Since then, what was born of poverty has skyrocketed in popularity to become a gourmet delicacy.
King oyster mushrooms
Common Types of Oyster Mushrooms
There are over 200 known species of oyster mushrooms worldwide, but less than a handful are widely available in grocery stores. These are the most common varieties:
- Pearl oyster mushrooms: These are the most common type of oyster mushrooms found in North America. Their flavor is mild, subtly sweet, and earthy; the thin caps have a tender bite. They’re found in clusters with caps ranging in size from ¼ centimeter to 2 inches.
- Phoenix oyster mushrooms: Similar in flavor and appearance to the pearl oyster mushroom, this variety is differentiated by bearing smaller, paler caps and longer, spindly stems. It grows more plentifully in late summer due to the warmer weather.
- King oyster mushrooms: Large, meaty, with thick stems, this variety has the most different appearance in comparison with other oyster mushrooms. They’re best known for making an uncanny substitute for scallops, complete with a deep umami yet subtly nuanced flavor.
- Blue oyster mushrooms: True to their name, these mushrooms have startlingly blue caps when they begin to grow, although the intensity of that hue tends to fade as they reach maturity. When sold, you’ll typically find these with grey caps and white gills. They’re slightly chewier, which makes them a particularly excellent plant-based alternative in conventional seafood recipes.
- Golden oyster mushrooms: Bright yellow and smaller than many other oyster mushrooms, this variety is one of the hardest to find commercially. It has a rich, nutty flavor that’s more complex when cooked, but can skew somewhat bitter if underdone or left raw.
- Pink oyster mushrooms: Also known as the flamingo oyster mushroom, these flamboyant fungi are decked out in a vibrant pink color with ruffled caps. They thrive in more tropical climates. These mushrooms are more enjoyable raw since their fragrance and color fade when cooked.
How to Buy and Store Oyster Mushrooms
Commercially cultivated mushrooms are grown in greenhouses year-round, so you can always find fresh oyster mushrooms at well-stocked grocery and specialty food stores in the produce section.
You can often find better prices at Asian grocery stores, and more unique varieties at local farmers’ markets from small growers. Look for firm caps that are free of blemishes or dark spots, and smooth stems that aren’t wrinkled.
Excess water is the biggest culprit of premature spoilage for mushrooms. Don’t clean the mushrooms until just before use. Until then, store them in a paper bag in the fridge to make sure they can “breathe.”
They’re still quite perishable and should be kept for no longer than three days. For long-term storage, oyster mushrooms should be cooked and frozen, or dehydrated and kept in an airtight container. They’ll keep for up to a year in both cases.
Grow your own!
Oyster mushrooms are one of the easiest of varieties to grow yourself. They grow inside your home, making it easy to access when you need some to make your plant-based recipes even more delicious. It’s fun and economical, too, and an activity that children love to participate in. Here’s a detailed guide on what goes into growing oyster mushrooms and here’s one that tells you how to grow these mushrooms from waste coffee grounds.
But you really don’t need to get into the weeds, so to speak, because home growing kits (found some in gardening stores and online) make the process so easy. There are many, many companies offering these kits, so follow this search link for “oyster mushroom kits” to research the various types.
How to Prep and Cook Oyster Mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms are highly adaptable, working in any recipe that calls for fresh mushrooms, wild or cultivated. They can be seared, sautéed, stir-fried, simmered, stewed, braised, roasted, fried, or grilled. Those with larger caps can be stuffed, too.
Bear in mind that they do release a good amount of liquid when cooked, so add water, stock, or other wet ingredients sparingly. They become tender very quickly and won’t toughen with longer cooking times.
See this site’s Guide to Common & Offbeat Mushroom Varieties
Like all mushrooms, oyster mushrooms are incredibly low in calories by weight and volume yet boast impressive doses of vitamins and minerals. 1 cup of raw oyster mushrooms has only 30 calories, yet boasts around 3 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fiber.
They’re a particularly good source of niacin, phosphorus, and copper, among many other key nutrients. Oyster mushrooms are considered a superfood thanks to their antioxidant properties. Here’s a complete view of the nutrition profile of oyster mushrooms.
Serving Suggestions and links to recipes
Stir-fries: The first and easiest way to test the waters with oyster mushrooms is to make a simple but spicy Oyster Mushrooms Stir Fry, seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns. Serve with rice, or make it a complete one-pan meal by turning it into an Oyster Mushroom Noodle Stir Fry.
Seared “scallops”: Once you’ve had Seared Vegan Scallops made with these uncanny mushrooms, there’s no going back. Cooked in a vegan lemon-garlic butter sauce, even those who say they’re averse to mushrooms will change their tune after one bite.
Deep fried: Lightly battered or breaded, oyster mushrooms transform into a ringer for fried calamari. Vegan Calamari could easily fool even the most discerning foodies and stubborn omnivores.
Stuffed: Inspired by the classic seafood dish invented in 1889, Oyster Mushrooms Rockefeller is loaded with an herbaceous puree of garlic, parsley, and scallions just like the originals, but without any mollusks.
Sushi: Who needs seafood when you can make King Oyster Mushroom “Fish” Nigiri Sushi? Homemade vegan sushi never looked more authentic!
Pasta: Stroganoff is great with garden-variety button mushrooms, but wait until you try Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff with oyster mushrooms in the mix! This velvety dairy-free cream sauce is poured over al dente pasta for a crowd-pleasing dinner any day of the week.
Soups and stews: They can be finely chopped to add flavor and texture to all sorts of bisques and broths, noodle soups, and (vegan) beefy braises, but oyster mushrooms really shine when given the spotlight. Creamy, rich Oyster Mushroom Chowder does the New Englander classic proud, even in this plant-based version.
Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.
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