King Oyster Mushrooms Are The Vegetarian Steak Alternative You Need

Whether you're a vegetarian with a hankering for something substantial or just in need of an alternative to the intense, beefy onslaught of steak, there are plenty of flora that lend themselves to steak-like preparations. One in particular, is loaded with umami and has a meaty mouthfeel that will leave steak lovers satisfied and vegetarians clamoring for more. Whereas most mushrooms hold all of their value in their cap, the king oyster mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii) is all about the stalk, the dense flesh of which is prized for its flavor and versatility.

Seared, sautéed, grilled, or fried, this mushroom doesn't wither away, but provides a solid backbone that holds its own while serving as a canvas on which other flavors can shine. But that doesn't mean the king oyster mushroom is bland; rather, it has nutty, earthy, and, yes, meaty notes. Sometimes called a king trumpet or French horn, the king oyster mushroom makes a wonderful alternative to steak, but also pork or chicken, depending on the recipe and other ingredients involved.

What is a king oyster mushroom?

Scientifically classified as a basidiomycete fungus, the king oyster mushroom belongs to the Pleurotaceae family. Its captivating appearance features a stout, ivory stem crowned with a diminutive tan cap, exuding an air of distinction. King oyster mushrooms are typically around 8 inches long with an impressive diameter of about 2 inches. 

Indigenous to Mediterranean regions, these mushrooms thrive in the wild, often establishing dominion amidst the roots of hardwood trees. Their natural habitat spans landscapes from southern Europe and northern Africa to the Middle East, where they are known to flourish in the dappled light of deciduous forests. In these biodiverse havens, the king oyster mushroom sets its roots and establishes its regal presence, capturing the essence of its native landscapes.

However, in the realm of culinary exploration, this mighty mushroom has transcended its wild origins and found favor in cultivation. Expert cultivators have harnessed its potential, bringing its aristocratic flavor and texture to gastronomic enthusiasts worldwide. Farms dedicated to the cultivation of these majestic fungi have sprouted across the globe, from North America to Asia, echoing the delicate balance of its natural habitat. This widespread cultivation ensures that this mushroom graces the plates of food enthusiasts year-round.

King oyster mushrooms vs. portobello mushrooms

In the culinary world, mushrooms stand as veritable chameleons, transforming into delectable dishes that mimic the very essence of meat. Among these, king oyster and portobello mushrooms hold their own, each boasting unique characteristics that set them apart in both taste and preparation.

The portobello mushroom, often heralded as the "vegetarian steak," flaunts a wide, flat cap and an earthy, robust taste. When seeking an alternative to steak, this substantial mushroom is a prime candidate. Grilling or broiling large portobello caps can result in a juicy, tender centerpiece for your culinary creations, akin to a hearty sirloin. Yet, with its robust, meaty stem, the king oyster mushroom also emerges as a top contender for steak-like preparations. Its firm texture and mild, nutty flavor make it an exceptional meat substitute.

While king oysters excel in steak-like preparations, their culinary prowess extends beyond this realm. They provide a satisfying bite in vegetarian or vegan burgers, and they also shine in soups, stews, and risottos, lending their distinctive flavors to elevate these dishes.

Cooking king oyster mushrooms like steak

Savoring the meaty satisfaction of steak need not be limited to carnivorous indulgence. King oyster mushrooms' inherent umami richness, when properly cooked, imparts a mouthwatering experience akin to sinking your teeth into a perfectly seared steak.

For a mouthwatering pan-seared creation, slice king oyster mushroom stems and caps into 1 inch-thick, steak-sized rounds, and score a ¼ inch on each side. Heat a cast iron skillet and add a healthy glug of olive oil, a knob of butter, or a little of both. Season the mushroom slices with your favorite steak seasonings — think garlic, rosemary, and a touch of salt and pepper — and sear them until they develop a beautiful golden-brown crust. You can also nestle fresh herbs like thyme in between the mushroom slices as they sear. Once finished, use the flavorful fond of the pan to create a sauce with ingredients like shallots, garlic, brandy, wine, and cream. The result is a succulent, satisfying dish that mirrors the indulgence of a perfectly cooked steak.

Grilling aficionados can rejoice as well — king oyster mushrooms are an excellent addition to your barbecue repertoire. Marinate the mushrooms in a flavorful marinade, such as a blend of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and your preferred spices. Thread them onto skewers and grill them over medium heat until they're tender and slightly charred, akin to the char-grilled allure of a steak kebab.

Where to purchase king oyster mushrooms

Embarking on a culinary journey with king oyster mushrooms has never been easier, thanks to their growing popularity and widespread availability. Your neighborhood grocery stores, particularly those with well-stocked produce sections, are likely to offer fresh king oyster mushrooms. Check the aisles for specialty or exotic mushrooms, where you might stumble upon these gems. Additionally, farmers' markets provide an opportunity to connect with local growers who might showcase their meticulously cultivated selection during the prime mushroom harvesting season that runs late spring through late summer or early fall.

It's trite to say, but the digital age has ushered in unparalleled convenience, and sourcing king oyster mushrooms online is no exception. Reputable marketplaces dedicated to gourmet and exotic ingredients offer a virtual treasure trove of options. With a few clicks, you can have fresh or dried king oyster mushrooms delivered right to your doorstep, ensuring a hassle-free culinary adventure.

For those with a green thumb, cultivating your own king oyster mushrooms isn't much of a hassle. The ambitious can purchase a substrate to grow the mushrooms on, such as hardwood or sugarcane mulch, and king oyster mushroom spawn, which are like the "seeds" of the mushrooms. Conversely, king oyster mushroom growing kits put the whole process in a package, with the substrate and spawn included. All that's needed is water and a proper space to cultivate, and you'll soon have a crop of king oyster mushrooms for your meatless steak needs.