Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

10 Flavor Upgrades: Flavorful Fungi Earthy, meaty, smoky or woodsy, mushrooms bring depth to the plate

Oyster mushrooms provide delicate flavor and texture to a monkfish dish at Brine in Newburyport, Mass.

Oyster mushrooms provide delicate flavor and texture to a monkfish dish at Brine in Newburyport, Mass. Photo by Meg Manion

Beyond the common white button, there are many other types of mushrooms popping up on menus. Though often thought of as wild, these exotic mushroom varieties are now safely cultivated, and many are available dried as well as fresh. Fall is the perfect time to showcase these earthy treasures in a variety of different preparations.

Oyster Mushrooms
This white or light-gray mushroom has a velvety, trumpet-shaped cap. Like common button mushrooms, its flavor is delicate and mild, especially when cooked—the better for soaking up other flavors.

Try this:

  • Mix into a sauté with other mushrooms, plus parsley and shallots, as a specialty garnish for steak.
  • Fry until crisp and serve with a creamy dipping sauce for a small plate.
  • Slice thinly and serve raw in a green salad.

Menu Examples
Monkfish, sunchokes, oyster mushrooms, sunflower, Madeira, beef polpette
Brine, Newburyport, Mass.

Pappardelle with jumbo lump crab, Tuscan kale, oyster mushrooms, toasted almond cream
Riva, Chicago

Meaty, slightly nutty porcinis, which are also known as cèpes, are available both fresh and dried, which concentrates their deep, woodsy flavor and makes the capped mushrooms more versatile, both as an ingredient or ground into a flavorful powder.

Try this:

  • Enrich a vegetarian broth or sauce with the stems and soaking liquid from rehydrating dried porcini mushrooms.
  • Add porcini mushrooms to scalloped or au gratin potatoes.

Menu Examples
Belly Buster Burger: Florida beef, house-smoked pork belly, pickled onion, creamy Valdeón, brioche, porcini-dusted fries
—Spanish River Grill, New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

Steak Tartare Attila: Hand-cut raw sirloin with quail egg, porcini mushroom aïoli and garlic potato chips
Bistro Bis, Washington, D.C.

Often associated with Asian food, smoky-flavored, dark-tan shiitakes are available both fresh and dried. The thin caps can be quite large, but the stems are usually too tough to eat, particularly when the mushroom has been dried and reconstituted.

Try this:

  • Add heft to a vegetarian stir fry with fresh or reconstituted dried shiitake mushroom caps—and always double-check your spelling.
  • Stuff caps with scallop or shrimp forcemeat and braise for a dramatic appetizer or small plate.

Menu Categories
Tarragon Chicken: Boneless half with string beans, shiitake mushrooms and potato cakes
Orchard Green, Iowa City, Iowa

Banana Leaf Sea Bass: Chilean Sea Bass, shiitake mushrooms, ginger, scallions, and glass noodles
Xanh, Mountain View, Calif.

Beech Mushrooms
Also known as shimeji, hon-shimeji, or buna-shimeji, these clustered Japanese mushrooms have white stems and patchwork-brown caps, with a nutty flavor and crisp texture that endures even when they’re cooked.

Try this:

  • Roast clusters with olive oil and sea salt at high heat until crisp.
  • Use to add a little crunch to pasta and risotto dishes.

Menu Examples
Farm Egg, beech mushroom, kale, pork sausage, fried rice, corn purée
Empire State South, Atlanta

Hon-shimeji Mushroom and Goat Cheese Crostini with balsamic reduction
Stage Restaurant, Honolulu

The Asian name for hen-of-the-woods mushroom, the maitake is a frilly, bulbous tan or light-brown mushroom that prefers to be served whole, the better to show off its gorgeous appearance.

Try this:

  • Offer a dramatic whole grilled or roasted hen-of-the-woods mushroom as a small plate or as an accompaniment to premium steaks.
  • Add to a pizza or savory mushroom galette.

Menu Examples
BBQ’d Oysters “Roosevelt Island” Style (vegan): Nori seaweed “shell” filled with minced salsify, Sriracha-barbecue cashew cream, charred maitake mushrooms, and cucumber water drizzle, then brûléed
Equinox, Washington, D.C.

Grilled Maitake Mushroom Steak with black beans, black garlic, cilantro pesto and kale
Cunningham’s, Towson, Md.

Also known as the golden chanterelle for its beautiful golden-orange color, this aromatic, trumpet-shaped mushroom is prized in the French culinary tradition. With its somewhat sweet, delicate flavor, make it the star in creamy soups, roasted and salted for a side dish, or as a premium finish to a green salad.

Try this:

  • Sauté and serve with softly scrambled eggs as an elegant first course or breakfast/brunch item.
  • Prepare as a quick pickle to complement pâté and other charcuterie.

Menu Examples
Chanterelle Mushroom Pizza, braised onion, leek, goat cheese, fennel pollen
Doma, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Grilled Pompano Belle Meuniere: Chanterelle mushrooms, crispy caperberries, brunoise potatoes, roasted garlic, brown butter sauce
Criollo, New Orleans

Elegant and earthy, morels have a crenellated surface that’s perfect for soaking up sauce, especially rich cream sauces. They offer a great expression of spring seasonality. Dried morels are even more flavorful, with a deep, almost smoky savor that adds woodsy goodness to all kinds of foods.

Try this:

  • Top on LTO seasonal pizza with other arbiters of spring, like asparagus and ramps.
  • Add to a rustic barley casserole for a vegetarian grain dish.

Menu Examples
Morel Mushroom Risotto with poached egg, fresh horseradish and Mimolette cheese
Cafe Cluny, New York

King Salmon with Morel Gnocchi
The Georgian, Seattle

One of the first “wild” mushrooms to be embraced by chain restaurants, this meaty, extremely large, dark-brown mushroom is a no-brainer as a vegetarian burger substitute. Portobello mushrooms are the fully mature version of the crimini, which is itself a darker, slightly firmer variation of the common cultivated mushroom.

Try this:

  • Grill portobellos, season with fresh lime juice and sea salt, then serve with grilled corn tortillas and pico de gallo.
  • Scrape gills from underside of portobello mushrooms, cut into strips, bread with flour, egg and seasoned panko and fry; serve as portobello fries.

Menu Examples
Portobello Mushroom Fritters with Aïoli
Rivoli, Berkeley, Calif.

Special Salad: Pickled crimini mushrooms, Parmigiano-Reggiano, truffled vinaigrette
Sycamore, Columbia, Mo.

These delicate, almost fruity white mushrooms grow as clusters of slender stalks with tiny caps, and boast an almost crispy texture when served raw. They are part of the shimeji group of mushrooms, which also includes beech mushrooms.

Try this:

  • Roll clusters of enoki in thinly sliced marinated beef and grill.
  • Add to ramen and other Asian-style noodle dishes.

Menu Examples
Bamboo Fungus Soup: Fresh enoki mushrooms, green peas, organic tofu and shredded ginger roots
Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant, Falls Church, Va.

Seared Ahi Tuna with avocado, nori, enoki mushrooms and lemon-soy dressing
Gary Danko, San Francisco

Wood Ear
Actually a jelly fungus, and also known as a tree ear (and a relative of the cloud ear), this gill-less, almost stemless mushroom has a thick, smooth wavy cap that can be dark brown to nearly black in color. Although not big on flavor, the wood ear absorbs other flavors and has a crisp, crunchy texture that adds interest to foods.

Try this:

  • Add to stir-fries and noodle dishes for color and texture.
  • Cut into julienne strips and add to an Asian-style salad or in scrambled eggs.

Menu Examples
Steamed Flat Rice Rolls with Grilled Pork: Ground pork sautéed with wood ear mushrooms and steamed inside a rice crêpe, topped with grilled pork and green onions and served with nuoc cham
Goji Kitchen, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Sweet & Sour Nuggets: Vegan nuggets of compressed mushroom stalks with bell peppers, onions, carrots, pineapple and black fungus (wood ears) in a sweet-and-sour tomato sauce
Teapot, Redmond, Wash.


About The Author

Joan Lang

A freelance writer and editor living in the Portland, Maine, area, Joan Lang has been writing about food for more than 30 years, beginning her career in the financial and B2B press. She formed her own food and editorial consulting firm, Full Plate Communications, in 1989. She is a graduate of the New York Restaurant School and holds degrees in architecture and journalism.