It’s a phrase so many have used when trying to describe an unusual food or attempting to coax a stubborn child into eating dinner. “It tastes like chicken.” While most children will likely be able to tell the difference between cooked chicken and a vegetable, the phrase nonetheless is a common part of the Western vernacular.
Still, if something that shouldn’t outwardly taste like chicken, but does, is that necessarily a bad thing? After all, Americans alone consume some eight billion chickens every year, according to Vox. Whether it had to do with a conscientious effort to reduce the consumption of red meat is unclear. What is clear is that since 1970, American consumption of chicken has more than doubled. Therefore, it makes sense that should another food taste fairly similar to chicken, it would likely lead to more people trying it.
Enter the King Oyster (Pleurotus eryngii) mushroom, quirky-looking fungi. Though mushrooms consistently rank among the least popular of all vegetables consumed in the USA, see this poll from WDRB, there are many who do actually like these wacky things. Can we even call them vegetables? Anyway, chicken lovers should take note when it comes to the King Oyster, for it is a mushroom that tastes remarkably similar to the nation’s favorite poultry.
One tasty mushroom
The largest of the oyster mushroom genus, the King Oyster is a somewhat awkward-looking fungus. Immediately noticeable is the stalk-to-cap size ratio. The mushroom has a long, bulbous stalk and a very small cap. On the outward appearance, one would assume that owing to its size, the King Oyster’s stalk would, like other mushrooms, be tough and rubbery with sinews when cooked. However, the opposite is true, making it a rarity among mushrooms. Though completely unassuming when raw, a cooked King Oyster stalk will have a tender, meaty texture and rich, umami flavor.
King Oyster mushrooms are favored in several Asian cuisines, such as China, Japan, and Korea. They are also growing in popularity among vegans. The texture and flavor of the cooked stalks can best be described as being similar to scallops or chicken. Cooking the stalks wakes up the dormant umami, which is what helps bring out the meatiness. The closest flavor comparison would be to shiitake mushrooms, though their umami is more concentrated. Overall, the King Oyster mushroom is a mild, meaty mushroom that you can fry up for a convincing vegan take on fried chicken or pan fry to get a crispy outer layer like you would a steak.
Regardless, if you’ve held apprehensions about mushrooms, a cooked King Oyster may just be enough to begin your conversion. After all, they do taste like chicken.