I was recently poking around in the woods behind my house (by which I mean my rented apartment) with my dog, and as always, I had one eye out for wild edibles. But unlike most of our forays, this time I returned home with a few pounds of serious food tucked under my arm. As you can see from the photo above, it was a mushroom.
A chicken of the woods, aka sulfur shelf mushroom, as I've previously covered here.
Though I am interested in foraging, I am not at all interested in eating a mushroom that might kill me. Luckily the c.o.t.w. is no such mushroom. Known as a "beginner fungi," it has no poisonous counterparts and is ridiculously easy to spot. It's like it wants us to eat it.
And the feeling is mutual.
We made a risotto with little else but the wild fungi for flavor, and also sautéed a few hunks of it in butter and pan drippings from a chicken not of the woods. These were absolutely outstanding.
The sulfur shelf ain't no slimy, watery tasteless white button. It's a wild mushroom, and it tastes like it. The 'shroom is meaty in both texture and flavor, hence the name (I think). In fact I can't recall any other vegetarian foodstuff with a chew so downright steak-like.
Of course the actual chicken pan drippings accentuated the fungi's umami, but it worked with what was already there. As the drippings reduced, the mushroom took on a glaze and the edges began to candy. Little bits of hand-torn fresh rosemary didn't hurt either.
I don't eat every wild edible I find in the woods behind my house, largely because of concerns for the health of the soil. Though the woods are beautiful, they're low and surrounded by suburbia, and I imagine that much of the pesticide from my neighbor's lawns and the oil from our cars all finds its way down there. There's a beautiful elder growing out of the middle of a stream at the nadir, and at present it's full of berries, and I love elderberries, but I don't love lead.
But when I saw the chicken of the woods, I couldn't resist. After all, it wanted me to eat it.