The oyster mushroom (aka Pleurotus ostreatus) is a perennial mushroom that grows in clumps on dead and dying wood. Not only is it a mild, tasty, versatile mushroom, but it has a longer harvest season than any mushroom I know. Under the right growing conditions, you can find oyster mushrooms just about year ’round, and for a temperate climate forager, that’s a beautiful thing. All hail the generous oyster mushroom!
Oysters tolerate colder temperatures than many other mushrooms and are most abundant in fall and winter. Even after a frost or two, with adequate rain you can count on oyster mushrooms for your winter table. I’ve harvested frozen oyster mushrooms in the middle of winter, then thawed and cooked them with no discernible decline in tastiness. In the Rocky Mountains, you may also find them in spring, when you’re out looking for morels.
Commercially grown oyster mushrooms are probably available in your local supermarket. Which means you can familiarize yourself with how they look before you go out and forage for them on your own. Their caps are smooth and can vary in color from off white to brown. Underneath, the gills are white and will yield a white spore print.
Oyster mushrooms have either a small or non-existent, off-center or lateral stem. You can even try growing oyster mushrooms at home with a mushroom kit.
Every time I hunt for mushrooms I ask myself the age old mushroom-hunter question: would I rather have a few, small, perfect mushrooms now, or wait for more, larger mushrooms next week (with the understanding that while I wait patiently, someone else might harvest MY mushrooms!)? Fortunately, oyster mushrooms often grow in very large clumps, so it’s not unusual to find big collections of tender, baby mushrooms. Use a knife to slice between the mushroom’s base and the bark of the tree. Check in between the gills of larger caps for bugs, then clean your mushrooms and either cook or store. To save them for later, you can dry your oyster mushrooms in a dehydrator (at 125 degrees), or, sauté them in butter or oil, then freeze.
Large, meaty oyster caps can be grilled, broiled, or fried like steaks with butter and garlic. They can also be used in all the traditional mushroom ways: soups, pastas, risottos. If the stems of your oyster harvest are a little tough, reserve them for stock or duxelles. For a tasty hors d’oeuvre or side dish, use your oysters in this mini mushroom puff.