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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Wild Oyster Mushroom Soup

Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) usually appear in a cascading shelf from the surface of dead hardwood trees after the first rains of the fall season. I was lucky to have found a small crop growing from a small fruit tree stump near my home in Baltimore. I immediately snarfed them up into the plastic bag I had in my pocket that was originally intended for cleaning up after the dog. Someone else had to deal with the dog pile that day. I admired the mushroom up close and smelled them to be absolutely positive that it was an Oyster Mushroom. Yup, there was the slightly delicate asian aroma of what some describe as anise that is typical of this mushroom. I’m off to make lunch!

The Oyster cap is, not surprisingly, oyster or scallop shaped, sometimes with wavy edges, has a variable color from white to gray or tan to dark-brown and has a slight anise-like aroma. Oyster mushrooms contain a small amount of arabitol that is know to cause gastrointestinal distress in some people. The likely culpret is arabitol, a sugar alcohol similar to xylitol, manitol and sorbitol that are widely used food additives. What makes this such a prized mushroom is that this sweet quality is not lost in cooking.

Cleaning. Cut off the lower part of the stems of all oyster varieties to remove any shreds of wood or debris. The stems tend to be tough, so discard them unless you are processing your mushrooms in a blender. Be certain to flush out the gill spaces with water because they can be filled with soil and, especially, insects (unless you want that kind of extra protein in your food). Use a minimum amount of water and gently dry with paper or cloth towels. All species of Pleurotus are cleaned in the same manner.

Cooking. Asian chefs are famous for using Oyster mushrooms in stir-fried dishes, since the cap is thin and cooks quickly. You can tear the mushroom into minute sizes before adding it to your oiled wok or pan at the last stage of cooking whatever stir-fry you have going, they cook quickly. I particularly like them in a blended soup.

Preserving. Oyster mushrooms will dehydrate quickly and store easily in your pantry. When used dry, they are usually added to a dish without rehydration.
What’s for lunch? Well, I like a hot creamy soup during the cold months to keep me warm from the inside and we still had some surviving thyme in our herb garden that might not survive much longer if the temperature falls again. Taking what I had in the herb garden, pantry and fridge, I easily decided on wild mushroom soup with thyme.

Here is what I prepared:


· 4 tablespoons butter ( ½ stick) – I like butter too much
· 1/3 cup minced shallots – you can use wild onions or wild garlic
· 1 ½ pound fresh wild mushrooms – we had some shiitake and crimini in the fridge that I added
· 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
· 3 garlic cloves minced
· 8 or so cups chicken broth
· 1 pound potatoes, peeled and chunked
· ¼ cup dried porcini mushrooms – we had these in the pantry which were added for additional flavor
· 2 glugs of Madeira – cooking wine with an interesting history (Madeira a particularly stable wine with a shot of brandy, designed to last long ship voyages, was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and it was used to toast the Declaration of Independence.)


melt butter in large pot. Add shallots and saute 1 minute. Add fresh mushrooms; saute until tender. Add thyme and garlic; saute another 15 or so minutes. Add 6 cups of broth, potatoes and died porcini, bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered until potatoes are falling apart, maybe 25 minutes. Puree in a blender and return to the pot. Add Madeira and the rest of the broth. Season with salt and pepper… bring soup to simmer and serve.

This article is making me hungry for Oyster Mushrooms again... Happy oyster hunting!

1 comment:

Owen said...

Oyster mushrooms are one of my favorite wild mushrooms, we usualy find them on dead Cottonwood trees in Montana.