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Features 2 minutes 07 November 2017

Fungi Fun Guide: Japanese Mushrooms to Know

There's way more to the list than shiitake.

Japanese food Vegetarian guide

They're known for their substantial, almost meat-like texture and prized for their earthy, woodsy flavours that lend well to a variety of savoury dishes – soups, mousses, quiches, you name it. The Japanese have an impressive trove of delicious fungus, some of which might already be a staple in your pantry. You can use them in a stock, amp up the flavours in a chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg custard) or fry golden in a tempura batter.

Here are six Japanese mushrooms you should know.

Shiitake
It's probably the most popular Japanese mushroom outside the country. Shiitakes have a distinct robust aroma that work beautifully in soups, nabe (read: Japanese hot pot) and tempura. Fresh shiitake mushrooms eat better when deep-fried in tempura batter but the intensity of flavours in a dried shiitake hold up better in a broth or stock; just remember to soak the dried mushrooms for at least half an hour to rehydrate them before cooking.

Nameko
It's the second most popular fungi after the shiitake in Japan. Nameko mushrooms are most commonly found in miso soups and are delicious when served with grated daikon in a vinegared soy sauce. In the wild, nakemos are harvested on the trunks of dead beech trees but most of the fungus consumed today is cultivated. The surface of the a nameko is coated in a gelatinous slime, giving the mushroom its name; nameko is 'slimy mushroom' in Japanese. The small, tawny fungus is largely found canned or on occasion, dried.
The market rate for each of matsutake mushrooms are ¥20,000 ($238) per kilogram
The market rate for each of matsutake mushrooms are ¥20,000 ($238) per kilogram
Matsutake
When it comes to status — and exorbitant prices — matsutake mushrooms may be in the same league as truffles and morels. The prized fungus is primarily harvested in Japan, Korea and China and this year, due to a dismal harvest, sees the retail price of matsutake in Yunnan peaking at 3,000 yuan (S$618) a kilogram. Matsutake, which can be distinguished by its dark brown cap and a plump white stem, grows at the roots of red pine trees. It is best steamed in a clay teapot a la dobin mushi or quickly fried with rice. The fungus is typically cooked and seasoned with a light hand so its aroma isn't masked and is best consumed within days of its harvest.

Corner House's iconic dessert of cocoa pebbles, chocolate soil and pickled shimeji mushrooms
Corner House's iconic dessert of cocoa pebbles, chocolate soil and pickled shimeji mushrooms
Shimeji
These darling-looking mushrooms have little flavour on their own but are substantially rich and meaty in texture. In the wild, they grow in tight bunches at the base of decaying beech trees. Thanks to a growing number of mushroom farms cultivating shimeji, the fungus is readily available at supermarkets and grocery stores. They're delicious in soups, mixed with rice or stir-fries but the one Michelin-starred Corner House at Botanic Gardens has reimagined them pickled in a dessert (pictured above) and accompanied by cocoa-dusted chocolate mousse and chocolate-flavoured crumb.
A novel way to consume enoki mushrooms: strands of enoki wrapped around strips of bacon
A novel way to consume enoki mushrooms: strands of enoki wrapped around strips of bacon
Enoki
Their stems are slender and long, and somewhat resemble noodles when cooked. This stringy, springy fungus is usually cream in colour and delicate in flavour, which makes it an ideal addition to broths and soups like the Japanese shabu shabu. Other names it goes by are golden needle or lily mushroom.

Maitake
Here's another fungus that's largely cultivated. Translating to 'dancing mushroom' in English, the maitake is named for its delicate, frilly caps that make them appear like they're dancing. In the wild, the fungus grows on oak and beech trees in an undulating fashion, resembling the oyster mushroom in some parts. Soft, moist and dense, the maitake lends itself well to being sautéed and its delicate flavour allows for it to be simmered in soups.

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