This cultivated introduction from Japan looks like no other mushroom. Long legged, uniformly smooth and cream colored, it resembles a bean sprout or perhaps a straightened spaghetti noodle with a tiny mushroom cap. Other common names are "golden needle," "winter mushroom," and "velvet foot." In Japan it is called enokidake.
The winter mushroom grows wild in North America during the fall and winter months. It is found clustered on hardwood stumps, frequently as snow is melting around it. Its appearance is totally different from that of the cultivated form. The caps are 2 to 3 inches broad, yellow to tan in color and sticky to the touch, while the stems are shorter and covered with red-brown velvet (velutipes means "velvet foot").
Cultivated enoki are sold canned and in long bottles, or packed fresh in plastic containers. Be sure to examine fresh ones carefully before buying them. They should be shiny but not slimy, and firm, not soft. The base of the clump should be clean and not decomposed. Cut the lower 1/2 inch or more from the bottom of the stems, which tend to be tough and fibrous.
CleaningRinse before using and pour boiling water over them.
As a complement to almost any salad, enokis will add crispness and a subtle radishy flavor similar to nasturtium leaves and flowers. Eaten raw, they will leave a hint of pepper on your tongue. Toss some into soup during the last few minutes of simmering, or drop them into stir-fried vegetable or meat dishes just before serving.
Fresh, crisp enokis refrigerated in their original package will keep well for about a week.
Hot and Sour Soup with Three Kinds of Mushrooms
Serves 4 to 6 as a first course
Natural Food Sandwich
ALTERNATE MUSHROOM: Common Store Mushroom