Mycophagists are nearly unanimous in their love of Sparassis crispa, the cauliflower mushroom. It’s cool to look at and tastes great, provided you cook it long enough. Cleaning can sometimes be a chore, with needles and dirt clods sneaking into all those folds, but for the most part it fruits above the fray at the base of trees and doesn’t collect too much of the forest floor.
Cauliflower mushrooms can be quite large—a 20-pounder was collected on a recent PSMS foray to Deception Pass State Park near Anacortes, WA—so it’s an exciting find for the pot hunter. This one pictured below, only a few pounds, came from a patch of old-growth fir and hemlock near Mt. Rainier. I don’t find many of these mushrooms. Older forests are probably a good bet for habitat. A professional forager told me about a spot on the Olympic Peninsula loaded with cauliflower; it’s on my long list of hunting locales to visit.
If you’ve noticed that the cauliflower might be more aptly named the day-old-clump-of-egg-noodles-stuck-in-the-collander mushroom, then you’re already halfway toward an understanding of how to cook it. In fact, I like to substitute cauliflowers in recipes that call for egg noodles. It’s ideal for a beef stew because you can cook the mushroom in the stew, then scoop it out as the bedding that the stew will be poured on.
Beef Stew over Sparassis
This is a basic (read: classic) stew recipe, codified by Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything. You can make any number of changes to this recipe, from the stock to the spices to the veggies, to make it more interesting. Ingredient amounts are largely up to you. As far as I know, Mr. Bittman hasn’t tried it over cauliflower mushroom.
1-2 lbs. stew beef, cubed
2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 large yellow onions, cut up
2-3 tbsp flour
2-3 cups beef or chicken stock
5-6 large carrots, cut up
3-4 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3-4 stalks of celery, cut up
1-2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 lb cauliflower mushroom, cleaned and cut into smaller clumps
Using a heavy pot or dutch oven, brown the beef all over in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil, then remove from pan with slotted spoon. Cook the onions for a few minutes, then add the flour and cook another minute or two, stirring. Pour in the stock along with the bay leaf and thyme and add the beef back in. Stir well. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer half an hour, covered. Add the carrots and potatoes. After an hour, add the celery and the cauliflower mushroom. Cook covered until tender. Season to taste. Before serving, scoop out the cauliflower mushroom and divide into bowls; ladle stew over mushroom.