Dried mushrooms are often overlooked as a pantry staple, but shiitake mushrooms are actually one of the easiest ways to add flavor to any meal!
This is well-understood in Japanese cooking, which often calls for the use of dried shiitake mushrooms. However, before grabbing just any bag, make sure to find the best variety for your needs. To that end, let’s take a look at the two most common kinds of dried shiitake mushrooms: donko and koshin.
Donko shiitake are the most well-known variety, and also one of the most flavorful. Donko can be identified by their tall, thick, and round shape, often with white cracking and lines across the cap.
Importantly, these shiitake are picked before they open, so the cap should still be firmly curled under the mushroom (one of the key defining features of the donko mushroom). Donko shiitake are early season mushrooms picked from January to March, when the cold weather makes the mushrooms slower to open.
As they are more dense, they tend to have a stronger umami flavor compared to koshin shiitake. Donko shiitake are best quartered or served whole, as the meaty texture of the mushroom really shines with these preparations.
Koshin shiitake, on the other hand, are picked later in the season as the temperature begins to rise. In these conditions, the mushrooms are more likely to open quickly and release their spores before they can be picked by farmers. This is why koshin shiitake are larger and flatter than their danko counterpart. This increased surface area lends itself to making flavorful dashi (stock) and soups, as it makes it much easier for the mushroom to rehydrate quickly. This also makes it the best choice if you are short on time and want to extract delicious umami flavor quickly.
When serving, cutting the cap into slices will give you a beautiful cross section that shows off the large umbrella of the koshin shiitake.
Regardless of which dried shiitake you choose, remember to save the water from their rehydration. Using shiitake dashi in place of water adds umami and extra flavor to any dish, serving to enhance the taste of ingredients its combined with.
About the Author:
Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen. Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!