King oyster mushrooms are a large member of the oyster mushroom family with a meaty texture and rich umami flavor. They're versatile mushrooms that can be grilled, broiled, sautéed, and braised and served as a side dish or as the main component of a meal.
What Are King Oyster Mushrooms?
King oyster mushrooms, also known as king trumpet mushrooms or French horn mushrooms, are native to the Mediterranean regions of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and are cultivated widely throughout Asia, where they're popular ingredients in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisines. Their dense, chewy texture makes them a popular substitute for meat and seafood.
King oyster mushrooms grow to 8 inches long and 2 inches in diameter, with thick, meaty stems. They have bright white stalks and tan or brown caps. Unlike many mushrooms, whose stems become tough and woody, king oyster mushroom stems are firm and dense but completely edible. Indeed, slicing the stems into rounds and sautéeing them yields something resembling sea scallops in texture and appearance, which is why they're sometimes referred to as "vegan scallops."
King oyster mushrooms are cultivated in growing centers that resemble warehouses, where the temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels are carefully monitored and controlled. The mushrooms grow in jars filled with organic material, which are in turn stored on trays that are stacked up on shelves, much like in a modern cheese-aging facility. Once the mushrooms have matured, they're packaged into plastic bags and shipped to retailers and distributors.
How to Cook With King Oyster Mushrooms
Because of their firm, meaty texture, king oyster mushrooms can be prepared in various ways as a meat and seafood alternative. Their thick stems can be sliced into rounds and then pan-seared like sea scallops. When cooking them this way, it helps to score the tops and bottoms to help them cook more quickly and to absorb the oil or butter in the pan. They can also be sliced lengthwise, threaded onto skewers, and prepared like satay chicken. And their stems can be shredded with a fork and then braised to produce a result quite similar to braised pulled pork.
Alternately, they can be sliced or chopped and served in pasta dishes, tempura, added to casseroles, meatballs, and meatloaf, or simply sliced into slabs and sautéed. They're good roasted, grilled, pan-seared, and stir-fried.
King oyster mushrooms aren't usually served raw, as they are relatively flavorless other than a slightly metallic flavor. Cooking them, however, releases their flavor, and some of their volatile flavor compounds are fat-soluble, which means that cooking them in oil or fat helps to release their flavors and aromas.
What Do They Taste Like?
King oyster mushrooms have a nutty, earthy, woody, intensely umami flavor, with some seafood and licorice notes. Its texture is meaty and slightly chewy; and can be compared to that of scallops, abalone, and calamari.
King Oyster Mushroom Recipes
Here are a few recipes you can use king oyster mushrooms in. And, for the most part, you can substitute king oyster mushrooms in any recipe that calls for button mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, or portobello mushrooms.
Where to Buy King Oyster Mushrooms
Since king oyster mushrooms are cultivated in indoor growing facilities, they're pretty much available all year long. Look for them in Asian grocery stores, specialty food stores like Whole Foods, and larger supermarket chains. Select ones with firm stalks and smooth, unblemished caps.
King oyster mushrooms are often sold in plastic packaging, which is typically not the best way to store mushrooms since the moisture they expel becomes trapped inside the plastic, causing them to turn slimy and spoil. So, in general, it's best to use your king oyster mushrooms right away. But if you plan to store them in your fridge for any length of time, remove them from the plastic bag and store them in a paper bag, loosely closed, inside the crisper drawer of your refrigerator set to the humid setting, where they will keep for around ten days.
Oyster Mushrooms vs. King Oyster Mushrooms
It's common to confuse oyster mushrooms with king oyster mushrooms, and while they are both in the same botanical genus, Pleurotus, they are different species. Oyster mushrooms, or Pleurotus ostreatus, have short stems and fan-shaped caps, are irregularly shaped with ridges and grooves, range in color from white to tan to brown, and grow in clusters. King oyster mushrooms, or Pleurotus eryngii, are much larger, nearly cylindrical and smooth, and grow separately.