shiang-gu, forest mushroom, oak mushroom, black mushroom, and black forest mushroom.
Shiitakes have been cultivated in China and Japan for 2,000 years. In Japanese, shii means "from a hardwood tree," and take means "mushroom." In its fresh form, the shiitake mushroom has a rich, buttery, meaty flavor quite unlike thee flavors of other mushroom varieties. When dried, the shiitake's flavors concentrate to a smoky richness.
The shiitake's texture is also quite different from that of other mushrooms. A fresh shiitake is approximately 75% water, a considerably lower water content than that of many of its cousins. Less water accounts for shiitakes firm-even chewy-texture and intense flavor.
Dried shiitakes are versatile and affordable. Their meaty texture and smoky flavor is great on its own or paired with other varieties. Shiitakes are an obvious choice for Asian dishes, filling out soy-based braises or stews or perking up quick stir-fries.
Fresh: When shopping for fresh shiitakes, avoid those grown in a sawdust medium and opt for log-grown mushrooms. You can recognize a shiitake grown on outdoor logs: it has a dark brown cap that curves under and is nearly round. Ideally, attached to the cap's underside is a thin "veil," through which the gills are visible. The gills should be tightly formed and moist. Sawdust-medium shiitakes have flat tops, are drier, and generally lack the flavor of log-grown mushrooms.
Dried: When shopping for dried shiitakes, look for mushrooms with thick brown caps ridged with white.
Fresh: Shiitakes never come in contact with dirt, so the only washing usually necessary is a gentle wipe with a damp cloth or a paper towel. Use a knife to remove the stems where they meet the cap. The stems are too fibrous to eat on their own, but they make an excellent addition to the stockpot.
Shiitakes are quite good raw, if you don't mind their chewiness. Sautéing is the most common treatment for shiitakes. One of the most important techniques for sautéing shiitakes is maintaining the sound of constant sizzling while they're in the pan, which means you're cooking them over lively heat. You want the shiitakes to develop a brown, crisp outside, which will boost their flavor.
Dried: Before using dried shiitakes in a recipe, even if it's a soup or a stew, it's best to rehydrate them in hot water. The stems tend to be woody, so trim them off and discard after soaking.
Fresh: If you need to store fresh shiitakes, put them in the refrigerator and cover them with damp paper towels. They can last for as long as two weeks, but it's best to eat shiitakes soon after harvesting.
Dried: To store dried shiitakes for a short time (a month or less), seal the mushrooms in an airtight container or ziptop bag and store in a cool, dark place. For long-term storage, seal the dried mushrooms in heavy-duty zip-top freezer bags and put them in the freezer where they'll keep indefinitely.