Monday, July 11, 2011

Mushroom Monday

"Green-winged teal, 3; 1 cinnamon teal, another green wing, 5 gadwall; mallard hen with brood of 5; 6 blue-winged teal ..."

It's 100 degrees in the truck, I'm frantically trying to write down this rapid-fire list for my first-ever bird count and my mind keeps wandering... 'ummmm, ducks...we need some for gumbo next year... check your waders for leaks... you really need to shoot; join the local skeet or trap club and get out there... where are my calls and that CD?... yes, yes, I really will practice before this season... swing, swing, swing..."  Yes, it's mid-summer and -- naturally -- a girl's thoughts turn to duck hunting.

Oh, wait... it's Mushroom Monday, isn't this a little off track? Nope.

Dinner last night.

That's marinated & grilled duck, last year's (??) mushroom, duck stock with an Asian flair, and fresh noodles from the big city: Duck and Mushroom Faux-Pho. (Living here we make do with what we have so we're missing a few key ingredients for a real Vietnamese taste, but it's close.)  Lots of mushrooms could go into pho and you can't tell anything by the picture so what might this be?

This week's mushrooms grow at the base of conifers (especially pines) in the Western U.S. (another variety grows in the Eastern U.S.). They can be large (up to 24") and range in color from whitish-beige to a light-ish orange/brown.

100# Chesapeake Bay Retriever for a perspective on size

Described as looking like and Elizabethan ruff, a bouquet of egg noodles or a certain Brassiciaceae family member, they are quite distinctive on the forest floor and have no poisonous lookalikes. The fruiting bodies have stalks that reach down to the dead or dying tree roots so when you harvest these mushrooms, cut them even with the ground and make sure to leave some for posterity's sake and for the other critters who eat them. You will be rewarded: these delectable mushrooms tend to grow in the same spot year after year. Yeah, that was easy...

Their slightly spicy taste and ability to keep their texture (like a perfectly al dente noodle) for hours in braises and stews are a few of the reasons these are considered by Arora and so many others to be "edible and exceptional." I concur! They have a slightly bright citrus note when fresh and a lovely, deep earthiness after they've been frozen. They can be difficult to clean but they are well worth it. 

For our first taste of cauliflower mushrooms we tried a salad from Fischer and Bessette's Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide.  The lemon enhanced the brightness of the mushroom and the slightly bitter toasted walnuts added balance and texture to the dish. Delish! What we couldn't eat immediately we vacuum sealed and froze. They turned out beautifully, as we thought they might based on the ground work done by foodie/forager blogger Langdon at Fat of the Land

Faux-pho with grilled duck and cauliflower mushrooms is something to add to our recipe files. Now the trick is to stock up on both those ingredients; our duck hunting and mushroom foraging have moved southward from our familiar haunts, presenting some fun challenges. Finding cauliflower mushrooms in the local mountains might be the hardest task because I think I know where we can find some ducks*...shhhhhh.

*It's okay -- I'm no scofflaw -- one can hunt legally in designated areas of the refuge. However, locals say the ducks know that better than anyone: they relocate to the protected ponds from daylight to 1pm, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays during the season. Smart ducks, we'll have to look elsewhere.

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