Dried mushrooms are one of those pantry staples that may often be ignored or
overlooked, but doing so with shiitake mushrooms would be missing out on one of the easiest ways to add flavor to your next meal.
In Japanese cooking, you’ll often run across the need for shiitake mushrooms. However, before you grab just any bag, make sure to find the best 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 one of the most iconic dried shiitake, 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 will not have opened before they were picked, so the cap should still be firmly curled under the mushroom (one of the key defining features of the donko mushroom). Donko shiitake are often early season mushrooms picked from January to March, when the mushrooms are cold and slower to open.
You may find these to have a stronger umami flavor as they are more dense than a koshin shiitake. When serving donko shiitake, they take well to being quartered or served whole, as the meaty texture of the mushroom really shines with these preparations.
Koshin shiitake, on the other hand, are picked more often later in the season as the temperature rises. In these conditions, the mushrooms are more likely to open up 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 naturally 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 add that delicious umami flavor quickly.
Serving wise, 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. Adding this dashi to your dish will add umami and extra flavor, serving to enhance the taste of your dish.
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!