Shimeji mushrooms are a variety of Asian mushrooms with a crunchy texture and nutty, savory flavor. They're also known as beech mushrooms, due to the fact that in the wild, they grow on fallen beech trees.
What Are Shimeji Mushrooms?
Shimeji mushrooms are a species of edible fungus, Hypsizygus tessellatus, which are native to East Asia but are cultivated in North America, Europe, and Australia, where they are known as beech mushrooms. They have small round caps and long, slender stems that grow from an interconnected base. They're often found growing in dead or decaying beech trees, which is where they get their name, as well as in cottonwood and elm trees.
There are a number of varieties of shimeji mushrooms, though the most common are the white shimeji, which is also known as white beech mushroom, white clamshell mushroom, or Bunapi-shimeji; and the brown shimeji, also known as brown beech, brown clamshell, or Buna-shimeji mushrooms. The colors are analogous to white button mushrooms and brown cremini mushrooms.
Shimeji mushrooms have a crunchy texture, and a savory, nutty, umami flavor, due to the high concentration of naturally occurring amino acids known as glutamates they contain, much like foods, such as parmesan cheese and anchovies. While shimeji mushrooms in the wild grow from fallen hardwood trees, commercially cultivated ones are grown in a bed of grain, sawdust, and other organic materials.
When raw, they're tough and bitter, but cooking softens them and eliminates the bitterness. They're often served in stir-frys, soups, and as a side dish with roasted meats and wild game. They're also popular ingredients in hot pots, rice and noodle dishes, and tempura dishes, as well as omelets, stews, and sauces.
Cooking With Shimeji Mushrooms
When cooking with shimeji mushrooms, the first step is to trim away the base of the mushroom bundle, and then separate the stalks so they cook evenly. Both high-heat and slow, low-temperature cooking are suitable for preparing shimeji mushrooms, and they do equally well with moist-heat and dry-heat cooking methods.
Next, transfer them to a bowl of cold water and swish them around to wash. Any dirt will sink to the bottom. Drain the mushrooms in a colander and repeat the cleaning process in a fresh bowl of water if necessary. Once they're clean, they're ready to use.
Most mushrooms don't really overcook, they simply lose moisture and reduce in size. Shimeji mushrooms are slightly unique in this regard since they have a slightly crunchy texture, and overcooking can cause them to lose that firmness. They do cook pretty quickly, so be sure to test after 3 to 4 minutes of stir-frying or sautéeing to make sure they don't lose their crunch.
Shimeji mushrooms make a great pizza topping, they do well in salads and omelets, and you can make a tasty mushroom dip by pureeing them along with some cream cheese and your choice of seasonings.
What Do They Taste Like?
Shimeji mushrooms have a savory, nutty, umami flavor, with slightly sweet and buttery notes. The brown variety are a bit richer, while the white ones are milder, but both types are loaded with mushroomy flavor.
Shimeji Mushroom Recipes
If you are able to obtain shimeji mushrooms, you can use them in recipes that call for other mushrooms, such as oyster, enoki, or shitake mushrooms.
Buying Shimeji Mushrooms
Shimeji mushrooms can be found at specialty food stores and Asian grocery stores. They can also be purchased online. Typically they are sold in plastic packages, which makes it more difficult to inspect them, but try to select ones that are dry and firm, as opposed to slimy or droopy.
Some shimeji mushrooms come wrapped in plastic, which generally is not good for mushrooms as the plastic promotes condensation which can lead to spoilage. But packages of shimeji mushrooms are wrapped loosely in plastic, which helps them stay fresh without turning slimy. Keep the unopened package in the refrigerator. Once the plastic is removed, you can wrap the mushrooms in paper towels or store them in a paper bag in the crisper drawer and use within 5 days.
Mushrooms, Umami Information Center, 2021.