Towards the end of winter, the larder is emptying out, and many of the more adventuresome food stuffs are eagerly awaiting my culinary experimentation. Organ meats can be fun, but I think my favorite challenge this year has been a fungal friend. Laetiporus sulphureus is a wood eating mushroom, and in The Pacific Northwest, it prefers evergreen trees. The taste of spruce was certainly present in this mushroom, even through it’s texture was more like chicken. I wrote a blog last fall about processing and storing the “chicken”- cook the mushroom before freezing if you can’t eat it all in the moment. Often, you come upon many pounds of this species when it is fruiting.
Reaching into the freezer, I pulled out a gallon bag of the sauteed CotW to thaw out for a tasty winter meal. I had planned to pulverize the mushroom into a soup, and began cooking the fungus down in a large pot. Then I took my hand mixer and began transforming the fruit into mush. The “meat” mashed right up, but rendered into a mousse like consistency. I added a bit of milk, hoping to “soup up” the sauce. Instead- I began to have the feeling I was stirring a batter. The pancake inspiration came, so I added a few eggs. The seasoning already on the mushrooms was garlic and herb, so I pictured savory latkes. Because these fungal fruits had fed off an evergreen log, they had that slightly bitter taste of pine tree, so I knew I had to put a little more salt and oil in to cut that taste. Onion was also a great addition, though I used flakes to save time. I will caramelize some first before adding next time.
The cast-iron pan was hot, and I used some fantastic bacon grease to round out my savory pancake flavor. By now, I had enough mix to make a flock of cakes, so I planned to refreeze some for later. The consistency and flavor of my new food was fantastic! What a great way to offer up mushrooms. My partner loved them with our dinner, and the next day I shared leftovers with another friend who also gave high praise. A few weeks later I took out another batch of Chicken of the Woods and repeated the recipe- this time I left out the milk completely, and added less oil. The cakes were even more light and fluffy, and still held their meaty flavor. I still left out the caramelized onions, so I know batch number three will be the best so far. There’s still another gallon bag in the freezer for continued experimentation. I love the amazing diversity of mushrooms, how they are a food group, and what wonderful fungus flavors I have yet to discover.
The recipes out there are endless- here’s one from a guy I’m a big fan of in the fungal family. Paul Stamets is the Pacific Northwest mushroom expert, and I appreciate the way he approaches mushroom learning. Note his advice about potential gastric intestine discomfort, which can come from under-cooking your mushrooms. There’s a lot to learn about identifying, harvesting, and cooking up mushrooms. In this blog, I try to stick to the safe species that are found locally in my area, but please, if you are new to mushrooming, please take a class and make sure you forage with someone who knows mushrooms well in your area. What I am sharing relates to Chicken of the Woods from Western Washington. There are eastern verities which look very similar, but might have very different properties. Mushrooming is a great adventure, please remain safe and do not explore the pallet of fungus without expert guidance, many species can make you very sick, and some might even kill you. Here at EEC Forest Stewardship, we love sharing our mushroom experiences and introduce our readers to new species, but this blog is not a mushroom teaching tool so much as an inspiration. Please be excited about mushrooms, learning about them, foraging, and, with the right mentoring- eating some of the most delicious, well kept secrets of the woods.