Introduction: Stalking the Wild Lion's Mane Mushroom
Found hiding high up on decaying trees these wily fungi are my all time favorite mushroom. I start stalking them in the late Fall and into the Winter in SC. Further North, into Vermont and New Hampshire they can be spied in late summer. Why do I climb 25 ft tall trees to hunt down and eat these particular mushrooms? BECAUSE THEY TASTE LIKE LOBSTER!
Step 1: On the Hunt
Bearded Tooth, Old Man’s Beard, Satyr’s Beard, Monkey Head, Bear’s Head, Sheep’s Head, Lion’s mane, Hedgehog Fungus, Tree Hedgehog, PomPom - these are some of the sneaky mushroom's aliases. While they may think using an alias will help them hide, they are impossible to mix up with any other mushroom.
Like being in the witness protection plan they live out their lives in plain sight because people searching for mushrooms are looking down - not up, but when you see one - so white against the tree it looks like a snowball, or in one of my hunts a white owl, you will wonder how you ever missed them before.
If you find a Lion's Mane mushroom that is dry and looks a bit shrunken, and you can't squeeze any water from it just leave it. Even if you do take it home, rehydrate it and cook it - it will be so bitter tasting that you will spit it into the sink. You may wonder if something is wrong with your taste buds and try another piece, and then you'll dump the whole pan into the garbage.
Step 2: After Capture
Most Lion's Mane mushrooms will come along peacefully once they have been spied, but just to be safe I always yell "FREEZE!" and point my knife at them. Then I read them their rights:
- You have the right to have no bugs
- To be free of dirt
- And to have the presence of a tree
- Any water that you may contain will be squeezed from you in a kitchen sink
- You may remain silent but anything you say will make me scream and run back to my car and never hunt mushrooms again
There is a non-working GIF showing the mushroom being squeezed of it's water, this is something you will want to do just so when cooking it crisps up nicely. You can't squeeze too hard because they are like sponges and simply spring back into shape, minus the water.
Step 3: Preparation
Tear the mushroom into thick strands and heat up a heavy bottomed pan with butter, or olive oil if vegan. Stay away from any non-stick pan as that will only essentially steam your mushrooms (or any other food you try and cook in it) and not give you the crispy texture on the fringe ends.
If you use salted butter you won't need any salt after cooking. It used to be known that unsalted butter is fresher because salt helps to preserve butter, but that may no longer be true. So add a tiny sprinkle of salt when you are done cooking, not before as that will make them wilt. Have you ever noticed that if you add salt to sautéing onions that they don't get brown the same way as without adding salt. I think the salt makes them mushy.
Step 4: Devour
Using medium heat cook until they are crispy at the edges and a spotted golden brown all over - about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with just a bit of salt - preferably Maldon flake salt, or at least corse Kosher salt. If using regular finely ground salt be sure to be ever so sparing.
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