Few things are more delightful on a brisk walk through the woods, on a cold January day, than coming across a cluster of Pleurotus ostreatus fanning out in tiers of slate-blue. The walk becomes instantly more worthwhile than simply getting a bit of fresh air- whatever was meant to be for supper that evening is instantly scrapped, the oysters are immediately plucked and pockets are filled with firm flesh, the intoxicating aroma of mushrooms and perhaps (depending on how far along the oysters are) half a dozen maggots.
It has always struck me as rather strange that most mushrooms aficionados will quite happily chow down on a good fungal find even if it does contain a few maggots, such an abhorrent practice wouldn’t even be considered if it were some sort of meat or fish. Of course you do try to avoid as many as possible, but then it is quite satisfying to see a panic-stricken maggot desperately trying to escape a sautéing chunk of fungi only to hit the base of the hot pan, go into a series of crazy spasms and then explode. I quite welcome the added protein boost to the meal, after all the maggots are basically made up of the mushroom they have been eating…just be wary if you come over to mine for supper and foraged ‘shrooms are on the menu.
Anyway, got a bit side-tracked there, where were we? Oysters, yes…
Oysters mushrooms are one of the greats among its other wild fellows, a mild flavour, wonderful firm texture and a shape that gives it’s name in more ways than one: on shucking an oyster the tiers are also present inside the oyster forming almost identical fans.
Identifying them is not difficult: although from a mycorrhizal point of view it is difficult to determine which tree it truly favours- it seems the Beech is the preferred host, but they can be found on most deciduous trees (rare on conifers) that are in varying degrees of decomposition, this particular find for example, was found on a fallen Sallow. They are fairly common and often found in large numbers, the colour of the cap can vary from a slate blue/grey in young specimens through to white in older specimens.
This is an excellent mushroom for the novice ‘shroomer- none of the confusable species are poisonous, but as with most first time tastings it always pays to check at least 3 books for confirmation and even the rather wonderful www.wildmushroomsonline.com and if in any doubt- leave well alone.
As we are entering the start of spring (about bloody time!), the daffodils are poking through and the snowdrops are out in their full glory just in time for Valentines day- remember you don’t have to spend money on flowers: in my experience the female of the species prefers it when you have put your hunter-gatherer boots on and picked the flowers yourself…and as I am sure every rampant ‘foodie’ across the country would agree- its fresh, local and seasonal too.
Flowers aren’t the only things appearing: today I found the first wild garlic leaves of the year- small maybe, but no less tasty. The stingers are out- just, but need another week before they will be worth the uncomfortable business of bare-fingered fondling. Hairy Bittercress has been a useful salad leaf throughout the less agreeable months of the year, but the flower beds seem to be full of large florets at the moment, so it only seemed right to include these with my oyster mushrooms and perhaps even some genuine shellfish too.
Oyster Mushrooms with Wild garlic & Bittercress.
(Serves 1 as a starter)
A bit of a fancy way to serve the mushroom, but it is certainly a fungus worthy of the effort. No need for seasoning other than a little salt- the pepperyness is delivered by the bittercress.
A handful of Oyster Mushrooms
Knob of Butter
6 florets of Hairy bittercress
4 leaves of Wild Garlic
Drizzle of vinaigrette
Pinch of salt to taste
Wedge of lemon
First off, shuck the oysters and consume the contents with a dash of Tabasco and a squeeze of lemon- you only need the shells as receptacles, give them a good scrub inside and out.
Wash the bittercress florets and dress with a bit simple vinaigrette of 2 parts oil, 2 parts cider vinegar and 1 part lemon juice. Chop the wild garlic finely.
Cut the oyster mushroom into strips and melt a knob of butter in a pan over a medium heat, add the mushrooms and sautee gently until they have browned at the edges.
Arrange the strips of mushroom in the empty shells, add a sprinkle of salt and wild garlic and replace the top half of the shell. Plate up the dressed bittercress and place the ‘oysters’ on a top with a wedge of lemon in the middle. Service!!
I do apologies for the lack of posts, plenty of work been going on building outdoor shower blocks and bucolic Thunderboxes for Safari Britain (follow them on twitter to keep up to date with last minute availability). Other things worthy of mention: I was on ITV’s ‘May the Best House Win’ last Monday showing off my humble cow barn to three complete strangers, and much to my genuine surprise I actually won! To watch it on ITV player click here.
For now, working my way through the book list. Damn.