A favorite among mushroom hunters the world over, the oyster mushroom is named because it is shaped like an oyster, and grows in shelf-like clumps on hardwood trees. Oyster mushrooms have barely discernable stems and their caps range in color from creamy white to grey, to brown, depending on their age and growing conditions. Oyster mushrooms decompose the wood of the tree they grow on, so are usually spotted on dead trees, especially beeches. Occasionally the caps of oyster mushrooms can spread out to 18 inches in diameter.
Predicting a season is difficult with oyster mushrooms, which can grow pretty much anytime of the year, with the right amount of moisture. However, fall is prime season for them. When cultivated they are temperamental and are usually grown in bags on beech chips and corn husks. This has not kept them from widespread cultivation. The substrate material the mushrooms are grown on impacts the flavor, so cultivated mushrooms will taste differently than the wild oyster mushrooms, which have a slightly nutty flavor and when fresh, sometimes taste of anise. However, cultivated oyster mushrooms will have a sweeter flavor and are more versatile in cooking. The older and larger the mushroom, the less sweet the flavor is likely to be. When oyster mushrooms grow too old, they become acrid, chewy and tough. They should have a light, delicate texture, and be somewhat spongy.
There are many subspecies of oyster mushrooms and one of note is the nebrodini. In the wild it only exists in a 250 kilometer area of Sicily and is endangered. Today, the nebrodini is cultivated at an organic west coast farm in the United States so it can be enjoyed without driving it to extinction.
CleaningCut off the lower part of the stems of all oyster varieties, especially the cultivated caps, to remove any straw or wood chips. Discard the tough stems. Since oyster mushrooms grow on woodchips or tree trunks, they do not have much dirt or sand on them, so there’s no need to wash these delicate mushrooms under water. Simply brush gently to remove any foreign materials.
CookingOyster mushrooms are often used in stir-fry dishes, since the cap is thin and cooks quickly. If you prepare a dish that requires a long cooking time, add these mushrooms at the last stage of cooking. Oyster mushrooms taste great when briefly cooked in butter or oil and can be also incorporated into a light cream sauce with delicious results.
RECIPE SUGGESTIONS:Autumn Mushroom Ragout Pappardelle with Rabbit, Porcini and Parmesan Seared Scallops with Creamed Leeks and Mushrooms