Oyster mushrooms, common oyster mushroom, oyster fungus, yellow/pink/white/angel trumpet, blue/black/king mushroom, Abalone mushrooms, wood-mushrooms, Cottonwood Head
(Pleurotus ostreatus and many others – Family Pleurotaceae)
Pleurotus is a genus with a number of distinct species and strains. Popular in Japan and Central Europe, it is increasingly available in kit form or can be grown from plugs of spawn. It is fairly common in the wild and is also offered in seed catalogues. The oyster mushroom is so named because it looks similar to an oyster and is available in a wide array of colours, including white, yellow, brown, and pink, all tending to fade to a creamy gray when cooked. It grows abundantly on the trunks of dead or dying deciduous trees, usually alder, and sometimes fenceposts. The most unusual location was on the dry skull of a dead whale reported in the 19th century. The mushroom can be found in the temperate regions of the world from autumn through winter and, this slippery textured mushroom, has been known to survive the snow. First cultivated in Hungary, it is now mainly cultivated in China and Japan. The distorted oyster mushroom can reach a width of five inches and forms on a very short stem offset to the side and attached to the tree. Its gills are off-white turning a pale brown with age. Under the cap, it is usually a grayish-blue.
This fungus should be gathered only when young and tender discarding the tough stem. The oyster mushroom is a good one for beginning foragers because it is abundant and relatively safe to collect. Its flavour and texture are described as being juicy, with a peppery tang, and can be fried just like oysters making a good addition for stews. As tempting as it may be to serve oyster mushrooms raw because of their pretty shapes and colours, it is advisable not to yield to this temptation. It is never a good idea to eat cultivated mushrooms raw as they often contain natural toxins or compounds that interfere with digestion. When cooked, however, not only will any bacteria be killed, but heating helps to break down the tough fungal walls, releasing flavour and increasing digestibility.
Abalone oyster mushroom (P. cystidiosus) is a related species cultivated in Taiwan and exported as the abalone mushroom, named for its resemblance to the large adductor muscle of the abalone (a shellfish).
Black oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) is a particular strain developed from the common mushroom by Gourmet Mushrooms, and, although similar to blue oyster mushrooms, has little round caps that are a satiny charcoal and pale gray gills. Plump, meaty, and moist, but rather fragile, these mushrooms have a more intense flavour than most other oyster mushrooms. Used sterilized coffee grounds are becoming a popular medium for growing these mushrooms.
Blue oyster, hiratake, shimeji (Pleurotus ostreatus strains) is a small, satiny, silvery blue-capped, mushroom with a white stem. It is more solid and flavourful than most pale oyster straines. Hiratakes imported from Japan are darker and firmer than those from the US. Generally, they taste sweetly shrimp-like, shrink little, and hold their shape and springiness when briefly cooked.
Common oyster mushroom (primarily Pleurotus ostreatus and P. pulmonarius) forms shelves or clusters of fairly long-stemmed fungi whose caps are cream to taupe and rounded or spoon-shaped. This mushroom ranges in size from a gumdrop to a saucer, covering sharp gills. All varieties are relatively tender and mild when cooked. These are by far the easiest and least expensive to grow; however, many growers are now using straw as the growth medium. This results in a loss of flavour, texture, and shelf-life. The natural host is wood of varying, yet similar, types, which produce a more defined body and character.
Golden oyster mushroom (P. cornucopioides), as its botanical name suggests, is funnel-shaped. It is cultivated in France, but found wild in Britain. The fungus produces white stems, with a cream cap that turns to ochre-brown. It grows on cut stumps of deciduous trees, usually elm or oak.
King oyster, trumpet royale, royal trumpet (Pleurotus eryngii) is large, heavy, fleshy, and unlike any other cultivated oyster mushroom. Despite the trademark name, it is not related to the black trumpet mushroom. Although quality varies, the dense bright-white stalks and creamy, concave tan caps are usually thick and solid. This mushroom grows in clusters which join at the base and not in overlapping caps like other oyster mushrooms. It is sweet and meaty and often grows on the decaying roots of plants in the carrot family. It can also be cultivated on chopped straw. It is especially favoured in France and Spain.
Pink oyster mushroom (primarily Pleurotus djamor) has a shelf life of about two hours. Elizabeth Schneider agrees stating that three times she bought them and had to throw them out within 24 hours of purchase.
Tarragon oyster mushroom (P. evosmus) has a superior flavour and aroma reminiscent of tarragon, as its name suggests.
White oyster, white trumpet, angel trumpet (Pleurotus ostreatus kummeri and others) is not easily recognized as an oyster mushroom having instead, the shape of their namesake, the trumpet. They are not, however, related to the black trumpet mushroom.
Yellow oyster mushroom (Pleurotus citrinopileatus and others) has almost the same shelf life as the pink, although it has held up long enough to cook immediately; but the colour fades along with most of the flavour.It cannot be sautéed as it turns bitter. Simmering in coconut milk or a rich sauce helps to keep it to a uniform juicy texture. Other related edible species include the following:
– Pleurotus flabellatus is an oyster mushroom with pink caps.
– Pleurotus porrigens is another related species (angel wings – see separately). It is much thinner and smaller.
– Pleurotus pulmonarius has brown or grey caps.
– Pleurotus samoneustramineus is from Asia and has pink caps.
– Pleurotus sajor-caju has brown caps.