A few cases of goodies arrived from Oregon this week from our mushroom supplier and included were two cases of what seemed to be Pleurotus mushrooms, but one of which was of a form that I had never seen before. [Aside: yes, I often ask my suppliers to send me whatever they think is best. I like surprises. I'll modify the menu to accommodate whatever arrives.]
These mushrooms are so unusual in form that I called out to Oregon to find out what they are called. My dealer assured me that these are a variety of Pleurotus eryngii and that he is calling them King Oyster mushrooms.
I know from experience that the Pleurotus family, which includes the much loved and common supermarket Oyster mushroom (P. ostreatus), is highly edible and equally variable in form. Many strains have been selected over the years such that you can regularly find Oysters in pink, blue, white, grey, and nearly black. So, I'm not really surprised to see Eryngii variants.
The other case was of a mushroom that I have known as a Royal Trumpet and that is in fact what my dealer is calling this particular Eryngii variant. Other names that I have heard for this particular cultivar include King Oyster, King Eryngii, Eringii, Trumpet Royale (trademarked), King Trumpet (also trademarked), and Cardoncello in Italian.
All these mushrooms are much larger than the common Oyster and they are all characterized by having particularly phallic stems topped by a tiny (if any) cap. They are very neutral in flavor, similar in that regard to fresh Porcini, and I find some of them to have a potato-like flavor. They all have sweet, firm flesh that responds extremely well to grilling or a hard sear in a skillet. They are not called "Poor Man's Porcini" for no reason, being similar to fresh Porcini at a fraction of the price.
There is another species of Oyster mushroom that I am looking forward to working with and that is the Abalone (or Elf) mushroom (P. cystidiosus), named for its resemblance to abalone when crusted and fried. I am looking forward to making that judgement for myself.
If you see any of these pleurotes at your market, by all means take them home and see what you can do with them. If you're wondering what I'm going to do with mine, I don't yet know, but come on down to the restaurant and find out.