Shiitake mushrooms are small to medium in size with caps averaging 10-20 centimeters in diameter and are attached to thin stems. The caps range in color from light to dark brown and have a wide, umbrella shape with a characteristic curled rim. Inside, the cream-colored flesh is firm, chewy, and spongy. Underneath the cap, the white gills are tightly arranged, are not attached to the stem, and depending on maturity, there may also be a thin veil covering the gills. The ivory to light brown stem is smooth, tough, and fibrous. When cooked, Shiitake mushrooms release a garlic-pine aroma and have a savory, earthy, and smoky, umami flavor.
Shiitake mushrooms contain vitamins A, B2, B12, C, and D, iron, calcium, copper, selenium, zinc, and manganese.
Shiitake mushrooms are best suited for cooked applications such as frying, sautéing, boiling, steaming, and grilling. Although shiitake mushrooms are a cultivated variety, their umami, earthy flavor and texture lend itself to being a substitute in recipes calling for wild mushrooms. They can be sliced and used in stir-fries, miso soup, vegetarian dashi, stuffed and steamed, cooked in omelets, mixed into pasta, or fried. They can also be dried and rehydrated for extended use, or dried and ground into a powder as a flavoring agent for soups, stocks, and sauces. Shiitake mushrooms pair well with marjoram, thyme, cilantro, spinach, mustard greens, eggplant, broccoli, peas, ramps, carrots, bell pepper, baby corn, water chestnuts, potatoes, onion, green onion, garlic, ginger, poultry, pork, lamb, shrimp, rice, barley, pasta, soy sauce, and dry red wine. They will keep 1-2 weeks when stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator.
Shiitake mushrooms are available in the spring through early fall, while the cultivated versions are available year-round.