One day while describing the different flavors encountered with the various oyster mushroom varieties it occurred to me that it is like reading the back of a wine bottle. Therefore when discussing this topic with customers, we always preface our speech using that qualifier. For instance, when describing salmon oysters, I tell customers that it has a ham-like flavor. I elaborate by stating that it is not like chewing on a piece of ham steak. Rather, while masticating, one will try to match the flavor encountered to a previous dining experience and with the salmon oysters, ham is the closest match.
Bottom line, all of the mushrooms that I grow and sell would work well for about any culinary application of which one could dream, but for those looking to capitalize on the texture, flavor, shape, etc. that a particular mushroom could offer and/or to better be able to select a mushroom that would best compliment a dish, this article is for you.
Keep in mind that this list is specific to the varieties that I grow. For example, when I say blue oyster, the variety that I grow tends to have smaller clusters with more delicate caps whereas another grower may have a variety that yields large clusters with meaty caps.
Blue and gray oyster mushrooms are what I call the workhorse oyster mushroom. They are favored by chefs and are what you are most likely to find when dining out and see “oyster mushroom” listed on the menu. To me they both taste the same with that characteristic oyster mushroom flavor. When I say characteristic oyster mushroom flavor, I do not want you to conclude that oyster mushrooms taste like oysters because they do not. Supposedly they got the name from their shape. It makes no sense to me since they do not resemble oysters at all. Anyhow, an oyster mushroom has its own flavor. It is hard to describe, but in my opinion, it has a more complex flavor than the common button mushroom yet it’s still mild on the palate. Regarding texture, grays tend to have larger, meatier caps whereas the blues I grow have smaller, thinner caps. Again, this is specific to the varieties that I grow. I tend to tell people to select between the two based on if they want a smaller or larger cap.
Salmon oysters range from a pale salmon to a deeper salmon color. The first flush yields mushrooms of a paler hue that darkens with each subsequent flush. The texture changes as well. Initially the caps are thicker and more compact but becomes thinner in following harvests. I will admit, I think salmons stink. Yes, I said it, I grow stinky mushrooms, lol. When I first started growing salmons, I almost didn’t continue to grow them simply based on the smell, and the fact that they release spores like crazy in my fruiting chamber. Yet they quickly became a favorite among chefs and farmer’s market customers. Aside from the fact that they are an unusual color and simply beautiful, they are desired based on their ham-like flavor and appealing texture. I have one customer that uses them as the “ham” when making Hawaiian pizza. I tend to pair them with dark leafy greens and/or in any recipe that contains a pork product.
Golden oysters are a beautiful gold with a thinner, more delicate cap. Despite the fact that it can be fragile when raw, they are sturdy and keep their shape when cooking. Many describe the flavor as having a nut-like quality. I say cashews and my husband says almonds. We agree to disagree. : )
Brown oysters provide that umami flavor many seek. Mushrooms in general provide this taste, browns and shiitakes tend to score higher in this department. Although browns could be used in any application, they work very well in any dish where one seeks a stronger, more earthy flavor.
Lion’s Mane may look like a small head of cauliflower but the similarity to the cruciferous veggie stops there. Surprisingly, lion’s mane has a similar flavor and texture to backfin crabmeat. Lion’s mane makes a great substitute for any recipe that calls for crab meat and is also greatly enjoyed simply sauteed on its own. Many customers purchase it to make lion’s mane crab cakes. In addition, it is one of the best substitutes for those that are allergic to shellfish.
Pioppino AKA black poplar mushroom AKA the Italian mushroom is a favorite among fungiphiles due to its nutty flavor and ability to keep its mushroom shape upon cooking. In addition to amazing flavor, texture, and presentation, it also has a lower water content which yields a longer shelf life.
King oyster mushroom AKA king trumpet: Being composed mostly of a thicker, tubby stem, many like to slice the stem in rounds and prepare them as they would scallops. When prepared in this manner, they do have a flavor similar to that of the tasty mollusk.
Shiitake has a meatier cap and provides a deep umami flavor to any dish.
Although I highlighted some flavor profiles and indicated pairing suggestions, truly, the sky is the limit when using mushrooms. There is no right and wrong. Experiment, have fun, and enjoy!