Shiitake Mushrooms in Chinese Cooking

Chinese shiitake mushroom

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Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular ingredients in Chinese cuisine. There are two types of shiitake mushrooms, the first being dried and the other fresh. They’re quite different for obvious reasons but I equally love both types of shiitake mushroom.

The earliest historical record of shiitake cultivation is from the Southern Song dynasty in the book Records of Longquan County. This book is compiled by He Zhan. This book was referenced many times and even adapted in the first book of shiitake mushroom cultivation in Japan.

Dried Shiitake Mushroom

Dried shiitake mushrooms and fresh shiitake mushrooms have very different aromas and flavors. Dried shiitake mushroom has a much stronger aroma and flavor compared to fresh shiitake mushroom.

The way to prepare dried shiitake mushroom is to rinse with the cold water first then rehydrate by soaking in cold water for around 15 to 20 minutes before cooking. Softening the shiitake mushroom in water will make it easier to cut into the shapes you want and also make it easier to cook. In many Chinese dishes, such as savory sticky rice or glutinous rice, many Chinese chefs actually keep the water they use to soak the shiitake mushrooms and use it as a stock.

You can prepare dried shiitake mushrooms with many different methods in Chinese cooking, such as adding it to your soup, stir-fry, stew, braise, steam and more. Because of the strong flavor and fragrance, this is one of the most popular ingredients in Chinese cooking. Dried shiitake mushrooms are one of my personal favorite ingredients to use.

French chefs use truffles in French cooking and Italian chefs use porcini mushrooms in their respective cooking. Chinese chefs use shiitake mushrooms in Chinese cooking.

How do you choose a “good quality” dried shiitake mushroom? The good quality dried shiitake mushrooms have a big, round, and thick cap. The texture should be tender with a strong fragrance. If you can touch the shiitake mushroom before you buy it, the good quality shiitake mushroom should be dry, crispy and light.

Donko (冬菇) also known as “winter mushroom” and huagu (花菇) also known as “flower mushroom” are two types of high-end grade shiitake mushrooms. Flower mushrooms have a flower-like cracking pattern on the cap that’s why it’s call flower mushroom.

Fresh Shiitake Mushroom

Fresh shiitake mushrooms are really easy to recognize. The cap of fresh shiitake mushrooms are quite big and have an umbrella shape. They have a dark brown color and light cream color stems.

Fresh shiitake mushrooms have a light, earthy aroma and the fragrance and flavor are much lighter than dried shiitake mushrooms. You can use fresh shiitake mushrooms like you would use common mushrooms like chestnut or white mushrooms. You can stuff, stir-fry, steam, deep-fry, make a soup, make a risotto or blanch it and add into your salad.

You must remove the stems before cooking as the texture of the stems of shiitake mushrooms are quite tough and chewy. You can save the stems for making stock which is perfect for adding to risottos and soups.

Try to find the thickest cap shiitake mushrooms as you can and choose the mushrooms that have domed and curled caps as this is usually a sign of fresh and high-quality shiitake mushrooms.

Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushroom

In the East, people believe shiitake mushrooms are not only rich in flavor but they are also high in nutrition and have a number of health benefits. They are loaded with protein and contain vitamins B2 and B12.

  • Shiitake mushroom can help fight certain types of cancer.
  • It can lower your cholesterol. Shiitake mushrooms contain a substance called “eritadence” which will help your body to absorb cholesterol and lower the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
  • It’s a rich source of selenium, iron, dietary fiber, protein, and vitamin C.
  • Shiitake mushrooms are a powerful antioxidant.
  • It can help you to lower your blood pressure.
  • It can boost our immune system.