Have you ever seen these? They're "ugly shiitakes", which I found at the UN Plaza farmers market in San Francisco.
"They're actually pretty cute," I told the grungy musician-type manning the booth.
"Eh, yeah, people seem to like them better than the regular ones." He shrugged.
As if on cue, three different people came up behind me, each grabbing a carton of the uglies, and paid for them. They were the regulars with a purpose, it seemed. So I bought some too.
Back home, I had a mushroom epiphany. No, not that kind of mushroom epiphany. Rather, it was the realization that an ingredient that has been a staple in the foods I grew up with, that is so entrenched in Chinese cooking, can be improved upon. These uglies are about half the size of a regular Asian shiitake mushroom. They are twice as soft. There is no thick woody stem that you need to discard. You plop a bunch onto your chutting board and chop away.
And the aroma when cooking is more akin to that of cremini or portabello mushrooms, woodsy but without a tinge of musty like when using regular shiitakes.
I'm sure there is a more scientific name for this shiitake variety. They have got to be sold elsewhere, right? Google doesn't help. If anyone has more info, I'd love to hear it.
It will be hard to go back to regular fresh and dried shiitakes after these.
UN Plaza (Heart of the City) Farmers Market
1182 Market Street (between 8th Street & Grove)
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
One Ferry Building
Alemany Farmers' Market
1000 Alemany Boulevard (junction 101 & 280)