Shiitake mushrooms

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Selecting: Choose firm, fleshy mushroom, particularly ones that are dark, domed and dappled (a white bloom is normal). Thin, pallid mushrooms often have a taste to match. Symmetry and size have little bearing on eating qualities. Shiitake should be dry, but not leathery, and have a distinct aroma. The heavy tough stems should be well trimmed or small. Among the most flavorful and rare are cold-weather strains with small cracks and fissures. Occasionally "baby" shiitake or "buttons" show up. Small, deep brown, tender (even the stems) and intense, they are worth the extra dollars.

Keeping and Cooking: Store shiitake in the refrigerator in a basket covered with a slightly damp towel. they lose their special flavor if kept more than a few days, although their appearance may change very little.

Clean them with a soft brush. Remove the stems for stock.

Alternatively, slice the stems and cook in a little liquid until soft, then combine with the dish being prepared.

Although shiitake can be used in all the ways you would use common mushrooms (except raw), they contain less liquid and therefore burn and dry out easily. The satiny texture and meaty flavor develop when simmered in liquid. Or quick-cook in hot broth for a slightly tart, pungent effect. Brush with favored or nut oil to grill or broil. When stir-frying or saut‚ing, use lower heat than for common mushrooms.

For seasoning, think of pepper, star anise, chili, garlic, soy sauce, shallots, chives, lemon zest, rosemary, thyme, savory and ginger.

Dried Shiitake: Also called Chines black or Oriental mushrooms, there are two main types. One is flat, thin, dark ÄÄ and widely available.

The other is meatier, paler, more flavorful ÄÄ and found only in Oriental shops.

Break off stems; use in stocks or grind fine for seasoning powder.

Soak caps for « hour in hot water or stock with a drop of oil. Lift out gently; strain liquid for soup, sauce or the dish being prepared.

Cook caps in a stew, stock, soup or casserole.

Eating Well February 1995

Submitted By DIANE LAZARUS On 02-06-95

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