Oyster mushrooms, known scientifically as pleurotus ostreatus, are popularly consumed all over the world. In addition to being wild harvested, they are also heavily cultivated, which results in their ready availability at most grocery stores in both fresh and dried form. These fungi complement a wide range of foods with their slightly sweet, woodsy flavor and distinct aroma. Many people who are learning mushroom identification seek out this type because they are relatively easy to identify.
In the wild, oyster mushrooms are found growing on the trunks of dead hardwood trees. They prefer slightly damp temperate zones and are abundantly distributed in many parts of the United States, Asia, and Europe. The mushrooms are white with very short stalks, well defined gills, and a white spore print. Usually found growing in clusters, the mushrooms bear a resemblance to the shellfish for which they are named. They are also very easily to cultivate and can be grown on wood chips, logs, and any growth medium that contains enough cellulose.
These mushrooms are very delicate. If picking them, individuals should store them in a paper bag in a very cold area of the refrigerator and use them within one week. Ones that are purchased at the store should be firm and not have any traces of slime or sponginess, and they need to be stored with care. Those that grow in the fall tend to have a more complex, chewy texture, while spring varieties are more tender.
As is the case with any edible fungus, inexperienced mushroom hunters should always travel with people who are familiar with the different species of mushrooms. Several other types strongly resemble oyster mushrooms but could cause intestinal discomfort if picked and eaten. Mushroom hunter who are unsure about identification and who cannot get a sample verified should throw it out and try again some other time.
Fresh oyster mushrooms are often added tosoups, sauces, and stir fries. They stand up reasonably well to frying, especially if added towards the end, and will impart a delicate flavor that can add a new dimension to a dish. Dried ones can be used in stews, stuffings, and other dishes that have longer cooking times. Cooks can rehydrate the mushrooms in boiling water for five to ten minutes, and the leftover liquid can be added to sauces and other dishes that might benefit from a mushroom-flavored liquid.