This year in Minnesota I've had a successful harvest of hedgehogs, lobsters, oysters and chickens of the woods.
No, I'm not talking animals. I'm talking mushrooms.
I have never had a mushroom year like this. It's true I've usually found some success hunting fungi, but usually I have a mediocre harvest of one variety - maybe two, often by accident. This year I've gone on two successful hunts and one not-so-successful hunt, and the result is me trying to figure out what to do with all my mushrooms.
On my most recent trips I was specifically hunting for black trumpet mushrooms, which lend themselves well to fairly refined foods. Years ago I accidentally stumbled upon a dark oak grove where the overhead canopy cut out the light needed for the grass to flourish, so there was little to no undergrowth.
There were, however, little cone-shaped black fungi later identified as edible black trumpets.
Since then I've found some delicious-sounding recipes for them, so I have gone on two trips with friends to find that hidden grove (which may have been logged off), each time only to find ourselves on the wrong side of some body of water.
The first time we missed and found ourselves surrounded by a bucket load of black trumpets anyway, and while harvesting them and attempting to exit the forest we then found pounds and pounds of orange lobsters under mounds of leaves. One was bigger than my hand.
Trying a different route to the lost grove we ended up on the wrong side of a pond and a swampy area. Contemplating our next step we found smooth chanterelles instead. Once we gave up on finding the grove, I brought my new company to the spot from the week before and stumbled upon a huge supply of chicken of the woods before we found our way back to the trumpets and lobsters.
For those who are not familiar with the wild mushroom world, each of these mushrooms ranges in price from $14-$24 or more per pound. If you wonder why mushroom hunters get excited about big finds, this is just one reason why.
Most of us prefer to taste expensive foods instead of sell them. I am going to use some of them for Hungarian mushroom soup and chicken wild rice soup this winter. Meatier mushrooms make fantastic stroganoff or beef tips in gravy. Because they have a grain-like meat, chicken of the woods lends itself to fried chicken recipes like chicken nuggets or tenders (especially if cooked or soaked in chicken broth).
Venison and Oyster Mushroom Stroganoff
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 pound venison, cut into strips
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups oyster mushrooms, sliced into strips
- 2 onions, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 cups beef broth
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 cups sour cream
- Black pepper, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Cooked egg noodles (varies by personal preference)
In a saucepan over medium heat, saute venison in oil. When about half cooked, add mushrooms. The mushrooms will release liquid. Cook this until most of the liquid is reabsorbed. Remove venison and mushrooms and set aside.
In the same pan, melt butter over medium heat, then add onions. Saute until they turn transparent and tender, then add garlic and cook about 30 seconds, then add flour. Stir until the mixture becomes a consistent paste or roux. Do not brown the roux more than necessary.
Slowly add beef broth to this mixture, whisking as you do so. Next, recombine venison and mushrooms. Add Worcestershire sauce and remove from heat to prevent curdling in the next step.
Whisk in sour cream until consistently dissolved. Return to a low to medium low heat. You may need to allow this to simmer to thicken up. If the roux cooked too long, the sauce may not thicken sufficiently. If so, you can make a slurry with either water and flour or corn starch and stir this in a little at a time until the mixture reaches the proper texture. Serve this over egg noodles.
Chicken of the Woods Tenders
- 1 pound chicken of the woods mushroom, refrigerated several days to dry (optional drying time)
- 2 cups chicken broth, possibly more (optional)
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon lemon pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- Frying oil
After removing any rubbery stem pieces, cut the chicken of the woods mushroom into wedges approximately the size of chicken strips or chicken nuggets. To add more chicken flavoring for picky eaters, lay these as flat as possible in a shallow pan. Do not use too large a pan, as the smaller the pan, the less broth you will need.
Pour the broth into the pan, attempting to maintain some contact with all mushrooms so that they absorb the broth. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oil to 350 degrees.
Beat eggs in one dish and measure flour into a separate dish. In a shallow dish or pie plate combine bread crumbs and seasonings.
Dip the chicken strips into the flour, then the egg and then dredge in the bread crumbs. Fry in hot peanut oil until the breading turns golden and crispy. Set aside to drain on paper towels.