Category Archives: Mushrooms

Candy Cap Custard

candycap3This winter, mushroom hunters in California are crying Hallelujah! Unless they happen to live below Oroville Dam

The Golden State hasn’t seen rain like this in several years, and the fungi have responded in kind. But with so many storms rolling in off the Pacific, the mushroom patches have also taken a beating, so timing is still everything.

I was able to thread the needle earlier this winter, sneaking into Santa Cruz for a week of sunshine right after a major pummeling that washed out roads near where I was staying in the hills. The weather turned again just as I was leaving.

My destination was the Santa Cruz Fungus Fair, one of the great myco events on the West Coast, but I also managed to get into nearby woods to pick a year-plus supply of candy caps.

candycap4I’ve written about candy caps before. It’s a complex of species in the milk cap genus, Lactarius. Candy caps are noteworthy for smelling intensely of maple syrup once dried, effectively putting mushrooms on the dessert menu. The two species of candy cap I encountered on this trip were L. rubidus and L. rufulus. The latter grows with oaks and is quite mild, but the former—if dehydrated at a low temperature (I think we set our dryer to 95 degrees)—is wonderfully fragrant. We found hundreds of them growing among a stand of old Monterrey pines.

Though candy cap cookies are my usual go-to recipe, the first thing I made when I got home with my bounty was an egg custard, adapting a very simple recipe that I typically make with huckleberries. The candy caps gave this creamy and satisfying dessert a pungent aroma of maple syrup, which paired well with the huckleberries on top.

candycap11 small handful dried candy caps
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup water
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup huckleberries
fresh nutmeg or cinnamon, grated to taste

1. Pulverize dried candy caps to dust in a spice grinder or food processor. Pass through wire mesh sieve to remove any large pieces. Cover mushroom dust with 1 cup warm water and set aside for 20 minutes.

2. Pre-heat over to 325 degrees. Combine milk and mushroom water in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from heat.

3. Mix egg yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a bowl.

4. Slowly whisk in hot milk-water mixture until frothy. Pour into 4 ramekins.

5. Place ramekins in an oven-proof dish or tray filled with warm water. Bake for 40 minutes. Carefully place a small handful of huckleberries atop each custard and bake another 10 minutes. Test one for doneness with a knife tip; if it comes away clean, the custard is done. Sprinkle with fresh nutmeg or cinnamon. Serve hot or cold.

Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding

pudding1I’ve been cooped up this fall, finishing a new book. (More on that later.) Meanwhile I get the usual texts and emails from friends in the patch, scoring hauls of chanterelles and porcini, sparassis and matsi. So it was a relief to finally get out the other day.

Hopeful forecasts for a good ski season seem to have some merit. Above 1,500 feet the thermometer was in the low 30’s, and above 4,000 feet there was a nice dusting of snow. I went up to some of my higher elevation patches anyway just for a look—and it didn’t take long to see that many of the high country mushrooms are done for the year in the North Cascades, although matsutake continue to plug along. But down around 2,000 feet I found kings, hedgehogs, chanterelles, more matsi, and lots of gypsies. So I have not gone without my annual infusion of Matsutake Sukiyaki.

As for the others, I chopped them up for a bread pudding served with a roast chicken. Normally I make a typical stuffing for the bird, but this totally un-fussy bread pudding is now my go-to. It really shines with wild mushrooms.

4 – 6 cups stale country bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 tbsp butter, divided (plus more if needed)
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 lb wild mushrooms (e.g., chanterelles, porcini, hedgehogs, etc.), rough cut
3 large eggs
2 cups half and half
1 heaping cup grated Gruyère cheese
handful parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large skillet, sauté onions in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat until caramelized. Add more butter if necessary and reduce heat so that onions are nicely browned and not burned. Remove from pan.

2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

3. In same pan, melt another 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and sauté mushrooms. Cook off any liquid released by mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan.

4. Beat eggs in a large bowl with half and half. Mix in grated cheese and parsley. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add bread, onions, mushrooms, and stir together.

5. Grease an 8-inch baking dish and dollop in bread pudding. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Remove lid and bake another 20 minutes, until pudding begins to brown on top and is cooked through.

Pasta with Oyster Mushrooms and Smoked Ham Hock

oyster_pastaMy usual oyster mushroom spots aren’t producing so well this year. Maybe it’s the combination of record winter rain followed by record spring heat. Who knows? Fungi are mysterious.

I’ve gotten used to kicking off the spring mushroom season with oysters before heading to the dry side of the mountains for morels and porcini. So I tried something new: cultivated oyster mushrooms.

While in Vancouver, BC, to give a talk at the local mycological society, one of the members, known as The Mushroom Man, hooked me up with an oyster log. In the past I’ve found my own wild oyster logs in the woods and fruited them at home, but this was my first attempt with a commercially inoculated log (basically a block of compressed sawdust that’s been injected with oyster mushroom spores and incubated in a plastic bag that retains moisture and humidity). I followed the directions, gave the log a good soaking, made a few incisions in the plastic wrapping so it could breathe, put it in a cool corner of the basement—and promptly forgot about it.

A couple weeks later Martha told me I better go check on my log. Sure enough, the enormous caps of fresh oysters were sprouting from the top. I harvested this first flush and watered the log again. A second fruiting is just starting as I type this.

In the past I’ve made a lot of Asian-style dishes with oysters, like Bibimbap and Udon Soup. This time I put them to use in a classic Italian pasta where they went toe-to-toe with a smoked ham hock that had been braised in white wine, chicken stock, fennel, onion, and garlic. The resulting stock became the base of the sauce and was insanely savory, while the tender hock meat paired perfectly with the robust and chewy oyster mushrooms.

Growing oyster mushrooms at home is a fun science experiment, especially for kids, and at the end you get a delicious meal. Just make sure to check your log every day or you may miss the action.

Braised Ham Hock

1 ham hock
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 small fennel bulb, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp black peppercorns

Pasta Sauce

2 tbsp butter, divided, plus extra if necessary
1 large shallot, diced
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup reserved braising stock
1/2 cup heavy cream (or milk or half and half), divided
1/2 cup reserved braised ham hock meat
1/4 cup frozen peas
1 – 2 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
8 oz fresh pasta

1. Braise smoked ham hock. I had my butcher saw the hock in half, then I braised it in a small pot with white wine, chicken stock, fennel, onion, garlic, and peppercorns. The liquid should cover about two-thirds of the hock. Simmer, with lid on, for about two hours, checking occasionally to make sure there’s enough liquid, until meat falls off the bone. Add more water, stock, or wine if necessary. When meat is tender, discard bone and fat, reserving braised ham. Strain stock and reserve. You should have plenty of meat and some stock left over for another use. Set aside enough meat and stock for pasta, about a half-cup of each.

2. Over medium heat sauté diced shallot in a tablespoon of butter. Add chopped oyster mushrooms and cook together several minutes. Add more butter if necessary. Deglaze with a splash of white wine. Add a ladle of reserved braising stock and a quarter cup (or more) of cream or milk and reduce over low heat.

3. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Add 1 tbsp butter and quarter cup of cream or milk to large pasta bowl and warm in oven.

3. Cook and drain pasta according to directions. Meanwhile add frozen peas, braised ham, and goat cheese to sauce, stir lightly for a minute, and toss with pasta in warm bowl. Finish with grated parm.

James Beard Award Nomination

JBA2I’m happy to report that my article “Into the Woods” for EatingWell magazine has been nominated for a 2016 James Beard Journalism Award.

The article follows Jeremy Faber, of Seattle’s Foraged and Found Edibles, on a mushroom hunting expedition in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. Cathy Whims, chef/owner of Nostrana in Portland, OR, supplied the recipes.

For more on the secretive world and hidden economy of wild mushroom hunting, see my book, The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America.

Saffron Milk Caps

milkcap3The saffron milk cap is a wild mushroom that most pot hunters leave to the Russians. That’s too bad because it’s tasty and abundant.

Saffrons, or ryzhiki in Russia, are actually a complex of species in the Lactarius genus, and much DNA work needs to be done to separate the North American varieties. They’re called milk caps for a latex they exude when cut. Some milk caps bleed white, some yellow, others red or orange.

Eastern Europeans have admired saffron milk caps for eons. I see Russians and Ukrainians in the woods outside Seattle carrying baskets overflowing with saffrons while their competition from other parts of the world is only too happy to leave the milk caps in the duff and fill their own buckets with matsutake or hedgehogs.

Saffrons bleed red or orange. The two most common saffrons for the table are Lactarius rubrilacteus and L. deliciosus (again, these taxonomic names are likely to change with future genetic testing)Both will bruise a greenish color (see photo above), which vanishes with cooking. I found the saffrons pictured here at about 4,000 feet in the North Cascades on the edge of an old-growth forest of mostly hemlock amidst a few patches of snow on the ground. They bled a reddish-orange color (see photo below right), though not profusely, and the green bruising was minimal. Saffrons generally have zonate caps (concentric bands in varying hues of orange, pink, red, or green) but these rings were very subtle in my specimens. As you can see, they also had hollow or partially hollow stems.

Perhaps one of the reasons many pot hunters don’t eat saffrons is the difficulty of identifying to species. With most mushrooms that’s a no-no—and I’m still not sure exactly what species the pictured saffrons are. Jeremy Faber of Foraged and Found Edibles confirmed that he sells this species as a saffron milk cap and that, if not L. rubrilacteus, it’s a close relative. He also said that saffrons will bleed less during heavy rains.

Saffron milk caps are versatile in the kitchen. My pal Hank Shaw, in a nod to Eastern European foodways, preserves them in salt. Sautéed, saffrons keep their salmon color and firm, almost crunchy texture.  Some mycophagists have complained of graininess, but prolonged cooking eliminates this. The key to using saffrons is taking care of them in the field and then using quickly at home. These mature milk caps pictured, though completely bug-free, were more suitable for the pan than pickling due to their large size. The green bruising isn’t appetizing, but as I said, it disappears with cooking.

Recently I came across a mushroom cookbook with some excellent non-cheffy recipes for the home cook, The Edible Mushroom Book. The recipe that follows is adapted from that with a few tweaks.

Pan-fried Chicken with Saffron Milk Cap Ragout

3 – 4 chicken thighs, skin on
1/2 lb saffron milk caps, cut up
2 shallots, diced
1 – 2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 – 3 fresh sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Pat dry chicken and season with salt and pepper. In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-high and pan-fry, skin side first, until golden, a few minutes on each side. Remove to an oven-proof dish and continue cooking in oven until juices run clear, about 20 minutes.

2. In same saucepan, melt butter and sauté diced shallots until soft and translucent. Add mushrooms, thyme, and crushed garlic and continue cooking together a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Deglaze pan with white wine and reduce by half. Add stock and heavy cream and reduce until desired consistency. Spoon mushroom sauce on plates and then place chicken atop sauce.

Serves 2

Wild Mushroom Strudel

strudel4A couple weekends ago, while attending the Sunshine Coast Mushroom Festival in British Columbia, I got a bite of a Wild Mushroom Strudel and immediately vowed to make it at home.

First, though, I had to find the mushrooms. So I visited a regular patch on my way to Yakima to speak to the Yakima Valley Mushroom Society. It’s a patch frequented by Eastern Europeans, especially Ukrainians, who pick a variety of different Leccinums including what they call “redcaps” (possibly Leccinum aurantiecum, though we’re likely to see taxonomic changes in North America with further DNA testing). They leave all the matsutake, which happily went into my bucket, along with several gypsy mushrooms and a fat porcino of more than a pound that remarkably perched in the duff unscathed. When I got home, the gypsies and king bolete went into the strudel.

I’ve never made a strudel before. For this reason I kept things simple and bought frozen puff pastry from the store. You’re welcome to make your own. A couple notes: braiding the puff pastry makes for an attractive presentation and allows air to escape through the vents so that the strudel doesn’t blow up into a monstrosity. Dried porcini, though not mandatory, gives the strudel a deep mushroomy flavor. You need less of the mushroom mixture than you think. My next strudel will have a bit less than the one pictured here.

3 cups diced wild mushrooms
1 oz dried porcini (optional)
1 large shallot, diced
2 tbsp butter
olive oil
2 – 3 springs fresh thyme, de-stemmed
1/4 cup white wine
1 handful parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

1. If using dried porcini, pulverize in a food processor and rehydrate with 1 cup warm water. Set aside for 20 minutes.

2. Saute diced shallot in butter over medium heat until soft. Add diced mushrooms. Cook mushrooms and shallot together for several minutes. The mushrooms will soak up all the butter; add olive oil if necessary. When mushrooms begin to brown, deglaze pan with a splash of wine. Add mushroom stock and reduce until the mixture is moist but not wet. Stir in thyme and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

3. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out puff pastry into a rectangle about  12 inches by 8 inches. Place pastry on a piece of baking parchment atop a cookie sheet. With a knife, make diagonal cuts to the edges of the two long sides, so that the pastry can be folded up in a braided pattern. Spoon mushroom mixture down the middle. Fold up the strudel and pinch the ends. Brush with eggwash and place in oven. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.

Halibut with Cauliflower Mushroom & Root Vegetables

It’s another dry fall in the Cascades. The new normal. Even so, mushrooms are up if you know where to look. I visited one of my favorite mountain porcini spots the other day only to find a parched landscape with nary a cap or stem in sight. This is why a mushroom hunter needs a diversified portfolio of patches. The next spot, lower in elevation, with taller trees, a nearby watercourse, and more moisture, paid off. I also found a smallish cauliflower mushroom, the prize of the day.

The cauliflower mushroom, genus Sparasiss, is one of my favorites. It looks like something that should be growing on the sea floor, not in a forest, and it’s one of the best tasting of all the wild fungi.  The mushroom grows from the duff at the base of trees, old-growth Douglas fir in particular where I live. When you find one, make sure to cut it off at the base with a knife. I try to leave some behind to finish sporulating.

If there’s one drawback to Sparasiss, it’s cleaning them. All those ruffles and folds collect dirt and pine needles as the mushroom emerges from the ground—forest litter that’s difficult to remove. I run the mushroom under a strong tap and try to get as much off as possible, then slice into smaller pieces and wash those as well.

Cauliflower mushrooms are among the tastiest of our wild edible fungi, and in the kitchen they can be used in all sorts of ways. I braisepickle, and sauté them. They’re especially good in a mushroomy broth. You can cook them for hours, infusing your other ingredients with deep fungal flavor, yet they still retain their al dente texture.

This is the sort of dish that would have intimidated me when I first started cooking and now is second nature. The different elements are bound by an intensely flavored yet soupy sauce of butter, chicken stock, and mushroom.

2 portions halibut fillet
1/2 lb cauliflower mushroom, cut into pieces
4 tbsp butter, plus extra
1 shallot, diced
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 lemon
root vegetable medley, julienned
olive oil
salt and pepper
parsley garnish

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and cut root vegetables into equal shapes and sizes. Mine were twice the size of matchsticks, with a mix of celery root, purple yam, parsnip, and carrots, enough to cover a small roasting pan. Brush on olive oil and roast in oven, cooking for minimum 1/2 hour, tossing and seasoning with salt and pepper at least once.

2. While root vegetables are roasting, heat a large sauce pan on medium-high and melt 2 tablespoons butter. Sauté diced shallot for a minute or two and add mushrooms. They’ll soak up the butter quickly, so be ready to add more butter or olive oil. Once the mushrooms have reduced in size and started to brown on the edges, add a splash of wine to de-glaze. Now add 1/2 cup chicken stock and cook that down, adding more stock as the broth reduces and starts to thicken, repeating until the broth is soupy and flavorful, 15 minutes or so. Squeeze in a quarter lemon. Before serving, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter.

3. When mushroom broth and root vegetables are nearly done, heat a non-stick pan on medium-high, grease with olive oil, and pan-fry halibut. Season with salt and pepper as you cook and add a little butter. Depending on thickness of fillets, cook each side for a few minutes until the fish is golden on the outside and opaque yet flaky tender inside. Spoon mushrooms and broth into bowls, cover with root vegetables, and top with fish. Sprinkle over a pinch of chopped parsley.

Serves 2

Southern Morels

se_morels9The Southeast has intrigued me for a long time for its diversity of plants and fungi, a diversity I’d mostly read about in books.

The last time I’d spent any significant amount of time in the region was twenty-five years ago, during a spring break from college that involved some sketchy camping and maybe a little foraging for beer. Earlier this month I had a chance to visit again and speak to mushroom clubs in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Though fungal diversity was nowhere near what it will be come summer, the spring wildflowers were out—and so were the morels.

Aside from the pesticide-laden morels that fruit in California’s olive orchards in late winter, Georgia represents the beginning of morel season for many a roving hunter in the U.S. It was April 1 when I set forth on my first hunt in the Goober State, and I didn’t come away with any fool’s gold—just this big fat yellow below, a Georgia peach of the fungal variety.

The habitat was so different from what I’m used to in the West. Along with members of the Mushroom Club of Georgia, we scouted river bottoms, looking for concentrations of green ash. One spot within the Atlanta Metro area, filled with dog-walkers and picnickers, delivered in spades. Meanwhile, I was trying to wrap my head around all these hardwood trees that were just beginning to leaf out. Oaks and hickories, buckeyes and magnolias—too many to count, much less identify.

And like the trees, the morels were different too. Depending on which taxonomy you’re following, they carry the scientific name Morchella americana or Morchella esculentoides. Most people call them yellows. I don’t see them very often in the Pacific Northwest, though they do fruit in a few cottonwood bottomlands in select locales.

Another difference with eastern morel hunting: the beasties. I became fanatical about checking myself for ticks. I have friends who have gotten Lyme’s disease and it’s no fun. One of the little buggers managed to get its teeth into me and now I’m keeping tabs on the wound, hoping it doesn’t grow into a bull’s-eye.

The other hazard is from the plant kingdom: poison ivy. The nasty stuff was all over the woods, and at one point while I was taking a breather in the woods, leaning casually against one of the many bewildering, unidentifiable hardwoods, my companion suggested I might want to remove my hand from the thick vine of poison ivy that was trellising up the trunk. Doh!

While in Atlanta, I also loaded up on some of the local cuisine. Georgia Organics hosted an amazing dinner that featured some of the city’s notable chefs. And if you’re a Sichuan geek like me, you’ll want to run—not walk—straight to Masterpiece restaurant in nearby Duluth. I can easily say it was the best Sichuan I’ve had since going to Sichuan Province back in the summer of 2011 (don’t miss the dry-fried eggplant or the chicken with a bazillion hot chilies).

In South Carolina, my next stop, I visited Mushroom Mountain, where cultivator Tradd Cotter is growing enough mushrooms, such as these elm oysters pictured at right, to interest Whole Foods. As for the wild ones, the yellows that I found were much smaller and grew mostly with tulip poplars. Locals call them tulip morels. Cryptic and incredibly hard to find (see below), they hid among the leaf litter, often barricaded by poison ivy. With help from the South Carolina Upstate Mycological Society, affectionately known as SCUMS to its members, we sleuthed them out, again in river bottom woods.

The Asheville Mushroom Club in North Carolina was my last stop, but we snuck over the border into Tennessee for morels, where we found the tulip variety as well as my first eastern black morels, pictured below, which proved tricky to spot given all the fallen leaves.

 

We hunted an area on the edge of Smoky Mountain National Park, where trillium, violets, trout lilies (pictured above) and other wildflowers were in full glorious bloom. The Smokies, I’m told, hold the highest plant biodiversity in North America. Whereas we have one species of trillium in the Pacific Northwest, the Southeast has forty!

Next time—and there will definitely be a next time—I’m returning with my backpack and tent so I can disappear into the Smokies or the Blue Ridge for a spell. Brook trout with wild mushroom stuffing, anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pining for the Woods

lang_hedgehogs_aran_goyoagaHard to believe, but I barely got out this fall. Work, kids, the newish book (which, by the way, was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award), plus a new, new book to research—all this and more conspired to keep me on the road for much of August, September, and October.

Back around Labor Day, it looked like we might have another stellar fall mushroom season this year, on par with 2013, and I was kicking myself for the overbooked calendar. August rainstorms—never a given in the Northwest despite what many people might think—did their magic, and the porcini started popping in the mountains. But then it dried out and stayed dry for weeks. Evidence was all over the woods of abortive fruitings.

In early October, right before the annual NAMA conference, held near Mount Rainier this year (for non-mushroom geeks, that’s the North American Mycological Association), I got to spend a day in the woods with my pal Jonathan Frank, who was in town for the conference. I like to refer to Jonathan as Captain Aquatic Mushroom Man. He’s the guy who’s been studying the newly discovered underwater mushroomPsathyrella aquatica, the first of its kind, which was found happily fruiting on the bottom of Oregon’s Rogue River.

Jonathan is also doing DNA work on our western U.S. boletes, including the butter boletes and the beautiful brick red-capped Rocky Mountain kings. Sadly, we got nearly skunked in one of my favorite and usually reliable porcini patches (sheesh, was it ever dry through most of September and early October…and then it got really really wet). We did however find more blue chanterelles (Polyozellus multiplex, pictured above left) than I’ve ever seen, which I happen to think is just a so-so edible, and a beautiful patch of spreader hedgehogs (Hydnum repandum, at right and below), a very delicious species. Once again, these hedgies were among the beargrass, which is a connection that I think bears further study, so to speak.

At home, we ate the hedgehogs for weeks because, you know, they’re about the hardiest of all wild edible mushrooms when it comes to just leaving ’em in the fridge. No problemo. We ate hedgehogs in wonderful autumn comfort dishes like pot roast, minestrone, chicken pot pie, and so on. But because I’m boycotting food photography at the moment, I’ve got nothing to show you. (Seriously, it’s so nice to simply eat and not worry about the light conditions or getting a good shot of whatever freakin’ mushroom dish you’re cooking.)

Later in October I took food writer/photographer Aran Goyoaga on a mushroom hunt, which she wrote about for Condé Nast Traveler (one of her lovely photos graces the top of this post). Again, we found plenty of hedgehogs in a beautiful stand of old-growth hemlock in the mountains, plus good quantities of yellowfoot (Craterellus tubaeformis), a few admirable boletes (formerly Boletus mirabilis, now Boletellus mirabilis), and some bear’s head (Hericium abietis). I’ve noticed that there’s tons of Hericium in the woods this year, and even more honey mushrooms. Wonder what that’s all about. I  don’t bother with the latter, though I’m told they pickle well. The bear’s head was aces in a seafood gumbo, pairing very nicely with the Dungeness crab that it mimicked somewhat in its sautéed form and smoked Andouille sausage.

On another one of my few trip into the woods, I guided a couple who had won my services at an auction for Seattle Tilth. We arrived at one of my regular chanterelle patches from the past decade only to find it clearcut. This is a hazard that any serious chanterelle hunter will face at some point in the Pacific Northwest, likely more than once. Those golden chanties are mycorrhizal with young Douglas fir—but the timber companies are even more enamored of doghair Doug fir. And if you live in the State of Washington, well, the powers that be will tell you that the only way to fund the educations of our school children is to whack ’em down on state-owned land. It’s crazy stuff like that that sends me running for the woods in the first place, so I hope to do more sanity maintenance in the not-too-distant future.

Photo at top by Aran Goyoaga; fourth photo from top by Jonathan Frank.

Shroom

shroom coverA new mushroom cookbook has popped up with the chanterelles and boletes this fall. With its up to date, globe-trotting recipes and solid advice, Becky Selengut’s Shroom: Mind-bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms is sure to delight foragers and fungally-inclined home cooks from coast to coast.

Becky happens to be a friend of mine, so I can personally vouch for the food herein (I also contributed the book’s foreword). When you eat at Becky’s place, you marvel at the speed, efficiency, and improvisation that goes so effortlessly into her cooking. Thankfully, she imparts some of those hard-earned kitchen chops here, with guidance on wine pairings, approachable, common sense language (“if you are filthy, take a bath; if your mushrooms are filthy, give them a bath”), and her usual good humor. The headings are a glimpse into Becky’s world: For one recipe, she reaches back to a complicated elementary school art project, when her father, who worked as an engineer, taught her the KISS principle—keep it simple stupid. Never was there better advice for grilling porcini!

The book is organized around the many varieties of edible mushrooms one is likely to encounter at a farmers market or in local woods. An introduction lays out the basics on cleaning, putting up for later, and recommended kitchen gear. Subsequent chapters are helpfully titled after the mushrooms themselves. There are chapters on increasingly popular cultivated varieties such as shiitake and king trumpet, but it is with the wild varieties where the book really shines and rightfully takes its place among favorite cookbooks on mushroom cuisine. Wild varieties include some of our most beloved: morels, chanterelles, hedgehogs, porcini, lobster, black trumpet, and matsutake. There is also a chapter on truffles.

Each chapter (and species) begins with a “fact sheet” with information on seasonality, buying tips, preservation, and cooking notes, followed by five recipes ordered from easy to intermediate to advanced. There are 75 recipes in all, of which two-thirds are vegetarian. “I’m a meat eater working on eating less meat,” Selengut says; this is smart because mushrooms really are a natural meat substitute, with meaty texture and comforting flavors. This book could be a go-to reference for Meatless Mondays.

The recipes, from soups and snacks to large, composed dishes, are keepers. Traditionalists will find a Beef Bourguignon here to put those grocery store cremini mushrooms to work, but it is the more contemporary, culturally diverse offerings that will inspire today’s new breed of urban foragers and kitchen experimenters. Wok-seared Lion’s Mane with Bok Choy, Squid, and Roasted Red Chili Paste? Yes, please! And bring me a side of Hedgehog and Cheddar Grits. Black Trumpet and Poblano Chilaquiles with Crema sound good, too. Oh, and wake me up for a midnight snack of Truffle Gougères and champagne.

Of her Acquacotta Soup with Chanterelles, Selengut writes: “While many of the ingredients in this recipe might seem—at first blush—to be gourmet and expensive, if you were a thrifty Italian who knew the woods where you lived, grew some humble vegetables in your garden, had some stale bread lying around, and kept chickens, this soup would cost you hardly anything.” So true. Other dog-earred recipes in my copy include a Porcini Salad with Pine Nuts and Lemon Salt; Thai Sweet and Sour Soup with Lobster Mushrooms, Lemongrass, and Shrimp; and a Maitake Tikka Masala.

With gorgeous photos by Clare Barboza, Shroom is a welcome addition to any cook’s library, and a necessary resource for fungi fanciers, who should definitely have this new cookbook on their holiday gift-giving lists.

Becky Selengut and I will be teaming up for patch-to-plate slide presentations at Phinney Books in Seattle on October 22 and Slow Food Seattle on November 3.