Thursday, 6 November 2014

Hermitcraft: Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

Shaggy manes (Coprinus comatus) are ubiquitous now where I live. These very common and almost globally-available wild mushrooms are a favourite of mine, because in spite of their omnipresence, and the breathtaking quantities you can sometimes pick, they have an extremely narrow field-to-table window. Basically, they begin liquefying into black goo the instant they're cut. Which means two things:

1). Unlike chanterelles, oysters, and certain boletes, they haven't been commercialised, and so are only available to foragers. And...

2) They're a blessing you have to take advantage of the instant you see them, and so are an excuse to lay other things aside and celebrate.

Because of their ephemeral nature, I have many more memories of having to pass up brilliant sets of shaggy manes due to bad timing, than I have of delicious shaggy mane feasts. But when the stars were aligned, fabulous lunches and dinners have suddenly replaced the humdrum dish I'd planned.

Growing in profusion along trails, sidewalks, and roadsides, in parks and yards, and even in dirt-floored buildings, this savoury delicacy is harder to avoid than to find. And with its frilly, delicate torpedo cap, splitting easily when pinched and bruising pink; its hollow, brittle white stem; and the frequent presence of gooey overripe individuals nearby (see photo right), it's hard to misidentify. Any confusion is likely to be with other coprines (such as C. sterquilinus) that are edible and delicious in their own right.

The trick to mushrooms of this genus is to keep them cold and cook as soon as possible. Really fresh ones, refrigerated immediately after picking, may keep 24 hours with only minimal blackening around the gills; any longer, and you've got a bitter, sticky mess. For best results, eat your collections as soon as you get them home, even if it's just in an omelette. (It'll be an omelette you won't soon forget.)

If you can't use your shaggy manes immediately, cook them quickly and freeze (or refrigerate to use in a few days). Some steam them in a saucepan with a little water, but I prefer to rinse them first, then slice the caps and stems coarsely and pop the pieces into a skillet with just the water that's left on them. I add a bit of cracked pepper, chopped onion, and minced garlic, cover tightly, and mijote over low heat till the alliums are translucent. This way the mushrooms produce their own liquor, concentrating flavour and resulting in a meaty-smelling mixture (see photo below) that can be added to other recipes or used by itself as a sauce base. The whole process takes only a few minutes.

So keep a sharp eye to the margins this autumn, and you may end up with a year's supply of choice, unbuyable mushrooms, one panful at a time.


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