Cooks prize shiitake mushrooms for their meaty texture and earthy flavor. They add an umami element to stir-fries, soups and sautes. Readily available in many grocery stores and Asian markets, shiitakes have a more robust mushroom flavor than common button mushrooms. They require a little extra care in prepping, but the results are worth it.
Beware the Stem
For most mushrooms, eating the stem is a matter of aesthetics and personal preference, but consuming the shiitake stem is an altogether unpleasant experience. It's woody and refuses to soften with any type of cooking. The stems adhere pretty strongly to the shiitake caps, so a stiff hand is required for their removal. Trash the stems, or reserve them to make a rich-flavored vegetable stock. Shiitakes have no offensive gills and require only a mild dusting with a paper towel to remove surface dirt. Like other mushrooms, they absorb water readily, so rinsing or soaking to clean them may compromise how they cook in recipes. Slice or halve the caps to use in sautes and stews. If you have smaller specimens, you may leave the caps whole for a steamed vegetable presentation or to add to soup. If fresh aren't available, invest in whole, dried varieties. Snap off the stem before soaking overnight to rehydrate them. Use rehydrated, dried shiitakes in sautees and soups.
Saute sliced shiitake mushrooms in olive oil or butter and minced garlic for just 3 to 4 minutes. Use them to accompany meats or vegetarian meals, or as a topping for pasta or polenta. Shiitakes are a natural in stir-fries, along with other vegetables, such as bok choy, cabbage, broccoli, snow peas and bell peppers. Season with ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce for an authentic Asian flavor.
Plain, boiled shiitakes are rather bland, but if add them to a soup, they infuse flavor into the broth and add a chewy textural component. Thai coconut milk-based soups, Japanese nori broth and Chinese chicken soups benefit from the addition of shiitakes. Add whole caps, slices or halves anywhere during the cooking process; they only need a few minutes to cook through but don't suffer from long cooking either. Shiitakes may also be steamed for 3 to 5 minutes in a steamer basket along with other Asian vegetables for an austere side dish.
Alongside Other Mushrooms
If you desire a bigger mushroom flavor in meals, substitute shiitakes for some or all of your white button mushrooms in recipes. Sauteed shiitakes work in omelets or on top of green salads. Cook them with butter and onions until soft, and puree them with fresh cream for a rich cream-of-mushroom soup. Chop and saute them with other wild mushrooms for a topping for French bread or pizza.