Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mushrooms: Wood Ear and Oyster

Andrew has become quite a connoisseur of mushrooms. He used to dislike them; but then after doing a project on them in a botany class at UCLA and reading books like The Omnivore's Dilemma, he has developed quite an interest and taste for them. Because of Andrew's interest, I have decided to learn more about them, particularly the mushrooms other than the regular white cap mushrooms readily available in stores.

We visited the Los Angeles Times Bookfair at UCLA on Saturday and I took the opportunity, while in Westwood, to go to Whole Foods Market, which usually has a diversified selection of mushrooms. The selection was not as great as what I've seen in the past, but I was able to purchase wood ear mushrooms and oyster mushrooms, neither of which I am aware of eating in the past.

The wood ear mushroom is very unusual. It has a somewhat shiny dark-brown or black top and a fuzzy gray underside, that looks almost like mold. It is very thin and rubbery. It grows on the side of trees and looks like ears growing out of the tree, hence the name. It is also called the tree ear, dry black fungus, silver ear and mook yee mushroom. The top is usually 1 to 8 inches long and ours were on the larger side, perhaps 6 or 7 inches. Raw, it did not have much of a taste. It was thin, rubbery and had a bit of a crunch. It is not a mushroom I would eat raw.
Chopped wood ear mushrooms in preparation for frying.

The oyster mushroom also grows on the side of trees and also gets its name from the shape of its cap, which resembles an oyster shell. The top of the cap was primarily a creamy white, with striations resembling coral. The underside of the cap was a light brown, and lacked the striations of the top side. The oyster mushroom is much thicker than the wood ear, but it also has somewhat of a spungy feel, although much less so than the wood ear. The taste of the oyster is very close to that of the white cap mushroom, but the oyster mushroom is much larger and much less firm.

The oyster mushroom chopped and ready for frying.

Judy cut up some large green onions and began to cook them in olive oil and a little butter. After the onions had cooked for awhile and started to soften, she added both the wood ear and oyster mushrooms.

The wood ear mushrooms retained their distinctive shape and color and the oyster mushrooms appeared much more like chopped up white cap mushrooms. The wood ear mushrooms were more flavorful cooked than raw, and were not as rubbery, but they still had a bit of a crunch. The oyster mushrooms were much more flavorful: I assume they assimilated the butter and salt flavors more readily. The wood ears add a fun look, but that is about as far as it goes for me. The oysters are larger than white caps and have approximately the same taste, so I would use them in the same way I use white caps.

We also combined both kinds of raw mushrooms in a salad with hard-boiled egg, tomato, some goat and blue cheese and lettuce. Judy did not like the wood ear. My feelings for them raw in the salad mirrored my feelings for them cooked. If there was much of a price differential between oyster and white cap, I would go with whatever is cheaper. If close in price, I would probably go with the oyster, as it is bigger and has more of a distinctive shape; although that would be enough to turn-off some picky eaters.

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