There are plenty of ways to achieve greater self-sufficiency at home. Raising animals, growing a garden, planting an orchard, and learning how to process and preserve foods are all central to being more independent. However, there's one more way to increase your calories, improve your health, and produce useful products at home.
You guessed it! I am talking about using shiitake mushrooms and adding it to your homestead line up. There are many different kinds of mushrooms you can grow at home such as button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, lions mane, and more. But, growing and using shiitake mushrooms is my all-time favorite in terms of ease of use and care.
How to Use Shiitake
If you are thinking about growing shiitake, but haven't quite figured out how to harness them for greater self-sufficiency at home, this post is for you! Here are some ways to use shiitake to improve your health, enhance your meals, and even add organic matter to your garden.
Use 1: Seasoning
Shiitake, especially dried, are highly prized for their umami flavor. Similar to the addictive, and not so healthy for us, MSG, shiitake seasoning can be added to just about anything to make it more savory and satisfying.
You can then mix your powder with other spices like smoked paprika, cayenne powder, onion powder, dried garlic, and others to make unique flavor combos. In fact, just add it to whatever spice mixes you already use such as what you put in chili, tacos, barbecue, curries, marinades, and more.
Use 2: Nutritional Supplement
Shiitake mushrooms are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Just 100 grams, or a few fresh mushrooms, can provide you with significant amounts of your daily requirements of niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, copper, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and fiber.
If you want to increase the vitamin load, then you can also add that dried, powdered shiitake you made as a seasoning to stocks. Or, incorporate them into your omelet mix, batters, or bread mixes.
Use 3: Meat Substitute
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, then shiitake can also be an excellent source of hard to come by amino acids. Even if you aren't a vegetarian, shiitake mushrooms are a filling and tasty alternative to home processed meat.
We all know that processing meat animals aren't the most pleasant part of homesteading. So, by substituting shiitake several nights a week for meats such as pork, chicken, or even highly processed tofu, you can limit your meat intake and still maintain sufficient energy for all your homestead activities.
Use 4: Make Soup
My favorite way to power load on shiitake is to saute up a few pounds. Just heat some butter or oil in a pan and throw in a few pounds of whole, fresh shiitake and make soup.
I personally use the stems in soup. Some people find them to be a little bitter and more fibrous. So, it's up to you if you want to add them. But either way, don't waste your time cutting the mushrooms for soup. They'll cook just fine even whole.
Stir occasionally to keep the mushrooms from sticking to the pan. When they are fully softened, toss them all in the blender with some liquid such as bone broth or vegetable stock or milk.
Use as much liquid as it takes to get your mushroom soup to the consistency you like. Blend until smooth.
Use 5: Shiitake Burger
Saute a pound or so of shiitake as you did for the soup. Skip the stems on this one though as they can be a bit too stringy to make a good burger meat substitute. Then pulse your cooked mushrooms in the food processor until you get a meaty-like texture.
Feel free to add in some garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper to spice things up. Then, mix in an egg and a tablespoon or so of flour to the mix. This helps the mushroom meat cohere and makes it easy for you to shape it into burger-like patties.
Once your patties are formed, then sear them in your cast iron skillet with butter until the egg is cooked through. The mushrooms are already cooked, so this part only takes a few minutes on each side to give your patties a browned appearance and cook the egg to safety. Then, throw your burgers on a bun with your favorite toppings.
Use 6: Table Traveling
I am one of those people who choose not to fly as part of my commitment to fighting climate change. But, I am also a travel junky. I love exploring new cultures – especially their cuisine.
So, I use shiitake as a way to ‘table travel' to places I can't get out to visit. Here are some of my favorite recent shiitake table trips.
– Japan by Way of Korea
This recipe for Spicy Soba Noodles with Shiitake is Asian fusion. Soba is Japanese noodles made with buckwheat. But, this recipe also brings in Gochujang pepper paste which is made from my favorite Korean hot peppers. (P.S. If you aren't growing gochujang in your garden yet, put that on your list!)
– Italy By Way of Japan
Normally in Italian mushroom pasta recipes, you would use porcini for your mushroom pasta. But this Tagliatelle Mushroom Pasta Recipe blends the best of basic Italian cooking with Japanese originated shiitake mushrooms. Plus, the lemon zest really lightens up a dish that often cooks up a bit heavy.
– France Via China
French food can be a bit heavy. So, I love that this recipe for One Pot Shiitake Chicken with French Green Beans is heavily inspired by easy Chinese cooking. Ingredients like soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger and green onions provide much of the flavor while the one-pot cooking method is very much like making good coq au vin in the French country cooking style.
By-products of Shiitake Mushroom Growing
Shiitake aren't just good for eating though. They are also good for your garden.
Use 7: Worm Food
I am a shiitake addict, so it's seldom that my worms get unused shiitake mushrooms from me. But, if you want to make your vermicomposters super happy, give them your shiitake stems or any of your caps you don't get to in time. My worms love shiitake almost as much as I do.
Use 8: Log-Out!
Now, when you grow shiitake on logs, your logs will eventually begin to break down since all that decaying wood is used up to make the shiitake mushrooms. When that happens, take those logs and set them in your garden beds.
Don't bury them or they might bind nutrients as they decay. But set them on top of the soil and let them decompose naturally. You may even get a few more shiitake as they degrade. Plus all the biological life in your soil will get to munch on that mycelium and partially degraded wood to add nutrients to your soil.
A Few More Things to Know About Shiitake
Now that your mouth is watering and your garden fertility assured… there are just a couple more things for you to know to make good use of homegrown shiitake on your homestead.
– Cleaning Shiitake
The first thing, like all your homegrown produce, is that shiitake may need a little cleaning or insect removal prior to use. If you grew the shiitake yourself and feel comfortable with your growing methods, then I'm of the opinion that a little dirt won't hurt. I personally just pick off the big debris or occasional slugs and use them without washing them.
I know there are some people out there more squeamish than I am though. So, you can also use a mushroom brush to dust the gills and surface of the caps to remove debris. Or, if you have an air compressor sitting around, you can give the caps a little puff to blow out anything not attached. (My friends at Baywood Forest shared that trick with me).
If you must soak your mushrooms or put them under running water to get them clean, do it right before cooking. Also, use those wet mushrooms for things like a soup where the texture won't matter much.
– Storing Fresh Shiitake
Freshly harvested shiitake can keep for several weeks as long as they are in a breathable container, not smashed together, and refrigerated. We lay ours out in a plastic box with air holes in the sides. We layer them up to 4 layers deep and separate the layers with paper towels (as shown above).
– Dehydrated Shiitake
The easiest way to store shiitake long term is to dehydrate them. There are three easy ways to do this.
Method 1: Electric Dehydrator
The first method is to use an electric dehydrator set at 135-140ºF. You can dry whole caps. Or, you can slice your mushrooms for faster dehydration. For caps that were grown in dry conditions, it usually takes about 8-12 hours to dehydrate at this temperature range. Overly moist shiitake take longer to dry.
Method 2: Oven Drying
You can also use lay your shiitake out on racks in your oven to dry them. Use the lowest temperature setting your oven offers. Then, use a thermometer to confirm that the temperature does not get above about 150ºF. If your oven is too hot, you may need to open the door a crack and let a little heat out.
If you have a gas oven with a lit pilot light, then just use the natural heat of the pilot light to dry your mushrooms. It takes a little longer this way, but no energy is wasted.
Method 3: Sun Drying
My favorite method, when I have the time, is to sun dry shiitake. You can dry them whole, but I suggest that all you need to do is slice the shiitake thin, lay them out on racks, and let them dry in the sun. Sun drying is not only more environmentally friendly, but it also adds Vitamin D to your shiitake.
Shiitake can actually absorb vitamin D from the sun in a form that is usable by humans. So, if you can't get outside yourself, let the shiitake soak up the rays for you. Then, use shiitake instead of store-bought supplements to stay healthier.
– Using Dried Shiitake
My favorite way to use dried shiitake is as a powder because you don't need to re-hydrate the shiitake prior to use. But if you want to use whole or sliced shiitake that have been dried, just put them in some wine, stock, or water about a half-hour before you plan to cook with them. They'll absorb the liquid and be similar in texture to fresh shiitake.
You can also use dried shiitake without cooking. However, some people have toxic reactions to the lentinan in undercooked shiitake. So re-hydrating and cooking completely is the safest method of use.
Using Shiitake Mushrooms at Home
Growing shiitake is a bit easier and less work than growing a garden or raising animals. So give yourself a homestead break and get some of your nutrition and eating enjoyment by growing shiitake at home!