A nameko or butterscotch mushroom is a variety of mushroom with a bright orange cap and a mild flavor. Nameko mushrooms are cultivated in Japan, where they are very popular, and they are exported to various regions of the world to meet consumer demand. Some Japanese restaurants have dishes with nameko mushrooms, and these mushrooms are also popular in Japanese home cooking. If you have a recipe which calls for nameko mushrooms and you can't find any in your area, you can try using shiitakes as a substitute.
The nameko mushroom grows in tight clusters of white stems, and the caps tend to be crowded together as a result of the crowded growth habit of the stems. When fresh, the caps have a shiny appearance, and a slightly gelatinous feel. As the mushrooms are cooked, they develop a jellylike texture which can surprise some consumers; this trait makes them ideally suited for certain stir fries and traditional Japanese soups.
You may also hear the nameko mushroom called a butterscotch mushroom, or Pholiota nameko, by people in a more formal mood. Because the bulk of these mushrooms are cultivated, it is sometimes possible to purchase nameko mushroom starter, if you're interested in growing your own mushrooms. These mild and slimy mushrooms tend to be an acquired taste, but some people find the texture enjoyable and suitable with cuisine from regions outside of Japan as well as in it.
Fresh nameko mushrooms are typically available from around October to February. When picking out mushrooms in the market, look for shiny caps with a fresh appearance and no serious stains or discolorations. Avoid mushrooms with a pitted or cracked surface appearance. Wrap the mushrooms in paper and store them in the fridge; they generally keep around three to four days. It is also possible to find nameko mushrooms in canned form in Asian markets year round.
One common use of these mushrooms is in miso soup, if you've been gifted with a nameko mushroom and you don't know what to do with it. You can also trying using the mushrooms in Japanese stir fry recipes; be aware that they turn slimy and sticky if cooked for too long, however. Some Japanese consumers also enjoy the mushrooms cooked with rice and a little bit of rice vinegar. If you want to experiment with the nameko mushroom in cuisine from other regions, consider the texture before adding it into familiar dishes, as the sliminess does not complement all foods.