Pretty In Pink: Oyster ’Shrooms

Keith Silva is the owner of Lawai Valley Landscaping and Yard Service, which offers more than 18,000 plants. Recently, Silva started growing mushrooms on the 4.5-acre property with his partner, Bob Bruce.

Bruce is a mycologist who has been growing mushrooms for eight years. Silva was an executive chef on Kaua’i for 20 years and cooked at Waimea Plantation Cottages, Cafe Portifino and Hanalei Bay Resort. In 1986, he learned how to pick 48 varieties of mushrooms on the coast of Northern California, which he used as a chef.

Lawai Valley Mushrooms hopes to grow 1,000 pounds a week and offer six culinary varieties, including king oyster, pink oyster, grey oyster, black poplar, shiitake and patty straw. Right now, pink oyster, black poplar and grey oyster are available.

PINK OYSTER MUSHROOMS Mushroom cultivation has a long history, with more than 20 species commercially cultivated in at least 60 countries, including the United States, China, Netherlands, France and Poland.

Oyster mushroom is a wild, tropical variety that is easy to cultivate. Pale, clustered mushrooms are joined at the base. As one of the most widely eaten varieties, oyster mushrooms are prized for their uniformly thin flesh that cooks evenly when left whole. Mushrooms are a fungus rather than a vegetable and bring an exquisite note to any dish.

Oyster mushrooms have been called guardians of the biosphere because research proves their potential to combat hunger, improve immunity and clean polluted land. Mycoremediation, a process of using mushrooms to remove toxins from the environment, was applied to a plot of soil contaminated with diesel. After being inoculated with oyster mushroom mycelium, a root-like structure from which mushrooms sprout, 95 percent of the toxins were neutralized in just four weeks.

Season: Lawai Valley Mushrooms grow year-round. Since mushrooms prefer cooler temperatures, they peak in the spring, fall and winter.

What to look for: Select plump, dry mushrooms with a sweet, earthy smell. Mushrooms darken with age, so avoid ones that are slimy, bruised, or pitted.

Storage: Wrapped in paper towels and placed in a plastic bag, Lawai Valley Mushrooms will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator. If condensation collects, open the bag to remove moisture.

Tip: Lawai Valley Mushrooms receive mushroom cultures from Northwest Mycological Consultants, which are approved by the state Department of Agriculture. “We do not sell poisonous mushrooms,” states Bruce, who frequently is asked that question at the farmers market.

Preparation: No washing is necessary, says Silva, whose mushrooms are sold clean. He recommends sautéing them in little oil over medium-high heat until moisture evaporates and mushrooms become caramelized. At that point, add flavorings. Oyster mushrooms have a delicate flavor and can be combined with other mushrooms or enjoyed alone.

Mushrooms pair well with butter, sour cream, cream, olive oil, dark sesame oil, garlic, parsley, lemon, rosemary, thyme, pine nuts, onions, potatoes and rice.

Mushrooms can be added raw to salads, stir-fried, marinated, grilled, broiled, cooked in parchment, and added to stuffing, soups, stews and braised dishes.

Health benefits: Oyster mushrooms are rich in protein (up to 30 percent by dry weight), plentiful in B vitamins, have no cholesterol, and have significant levels of the molecule lovastatin, which helps to modulate blood cholesterol levels.

The International Journal of Oncology identified two molecular mechanisms in oyster mushrooms that “specifically inhibits growth of colon and breast cancer cells without significant effect on normal cells, and has a potential therapeutic/preventive effect on breast and colon cancer.”

Lawai Valley Mushrooms can be found at: Restaurants and retail outlets order through Kaua’i Growers at 245-4039. Home cooks can buy them at the Kaua’i Community Market (Saturdays 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

MUSHROOM FURIKAKE TEMPURA WITH SPICY LILIKOI SAUCE

Silva shares his recipe for mushrooms that are coated in a light batter and deep-fried. Add more Sriracha to the zesty dipping sauce if you like it really spicy. This recipe makes about 1 cup of batter, and will coat about 2 pounds of mushrooms.

* 1/2 cup soy sauce
* 1/4 cup passion fruit juice
* 2 tablespoons water
* 2 tablespoon mirin
* 1/4 teaspoon Sriracha chili sauce
* 1/2 cup flour
* 1/2 cup cornstarch
* 1 cup ice water
* 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 egg
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon furikake
* 2 pounds whole oyster mushrooms, bottom trimmed
* 2 cups canola oil

Mix soy sauce through Sriracha in a small bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.

Choose a wide pot and make sure the oil is at least 2 inches deep. Heat oil to 375 degrees. Mix flour through furikake and coat whole mushrooms. Drop a bit of batter in oil, if it sizzles, the oil is ready. Don’t crowd the pot or the temperature will decrease and the mushrooms will stick together. Fry about two minutes on each side, until the coating is pale and lightly fried. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Serve immediately with dipping sauce on the side.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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