Most good parents won’t admit that they have a favorite child. We totally do, and we’re shameless about it: sorry, it’s Shiitake.
Though we produce up to 14 unique varieties of organic mushrooms on our Moss Landing farm (and we totally love them all unconditionally), Shiitake is like that one kid who grew up with straight A’s, got a full scholarship to an Ivy League, and still comes home to visit every Sunday. They’re overachievers, and we’re crazy about ‘em. Shiitake was one of the first mushrooms we started cultivating, way back in 1986 – and like many first children, it was kind of an accident.
Far West Fungi founder, John Garrone, inherited some failed Shiitake-inoculated logs that the San Francisco Mycological Society had given up on as a loss. Not knowing what to do with them, and believing them to be dead, he tossed them into a garbage can inside the cooler at the old Dogpatch Naval Yard. The cooler had a leak, as many coolers do, and a lot of water ended up pooling in the Shiitake garbage can, accidentally soaking the logs. A week or so later, the combination of cool, dark, and moist had given new life to the Shiitakes, and John was hooked. Now, over 30 years later, Shiitake is still our best seller and blue ribbon winner. These days, we produce between 13 and 15 thousand pounds of them per week on our Moss Landing farm. We no longer grow them in garbage cans, but we are still having issues with leaky coolers.
Origin stories aside, there are so many reasons to love Shiitake. Foremost is their flavor – they’re up at the very top of the umami scale, with a complex and deeply satisfying taste that lingers on the palate long after the mushroom has crossed your plate. They have a silky texture with just the perfect amount of chewiness. You always want just one more. There’s something friendly and wholesome about their fleshy, dappled caps, and their little scroll-curled edges. Whether you choose giant palm-sized caps to grill, mediums to slice and stir-fry, or a handful of tender baby shiitakes to scatter into an omelet, they will, without fail, make your dish. Like, you never have a pizza with shiitakes on it; you have a Shiitake Pizza.
As if this weren’t enough, Shiitake is one of the most accessibly medicinal mushrooms we know of. (What a sweetheart, right?) It has been renowned in Japan and China for its healthful properties for many thousands of years, and new research is emerging all the time about just how much this mushroom can do for us. It is a powerful immunomodulator, and like most other mushrooms in its class, its beta-glucans fight cancer, are anti-viral, and anti-bacterial. It can help protect the liver, lower cholesterol, and regulate blood glucose and insulin. They are notably high in B-complex vitamins, Vitamin D, and fiber. In fact, if you spread Shiitakes out to dry in the sunshine, they will absorb even more Vitamin D from our nearest star. It takes only two or three shiitake mushrooms per week in your diet to give your immune system a huge boost. But, you know, who has the snacking willpower to stop after 3 shiitakes? Not us.
You’d be hard pressed to find a recipe that Shiitake couldn’t work its way into (raise your hand if you want to try my Shiitake ice cream). Most notably, it is an essential component of dashi – the building block of Japanese cuisine. They can be roasted, grilled, baked, sauteed, you name it. Stuff it in raviolis or potstickers, caramelize it and hit it with a splash of brandy and cream and serve it over steak. We recently stuffed a roasted chicken with Shiitake and green onion kimchi. Chef kiss. Stir it into a thick rice porridge with ginger for breakfast if you have a bad winter cold.
Yes, we have to stop now, before we pull out our phone and start showing you a 30 minute slideshow of Shiitake baby pictures…