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Lake life

Oysters, Chickens, Lions & Chanterelles

Lion’s Mane (white ball), Chanterelles (little yellow “umbrellas”, Oysters (white growths on the log, and Chicken of the Woods (yellowy orange on the stump).

Part 2 of a 3-part series

Here is Trey Williams’ rundown on the best types of mushrooms to hunt, harvest to take home to your kitchen:* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Most people are familiar with Oyster mushrooms. They are relatively mild, but have a nice umami flavor, and some say a slightly sweet anise smell or flavor as well. They are very versatile and work well in many applications, but it’s hard to beat slicing them up, sautéing them with some shallots in some olive oil or butter, deglazing with a little wine or sherry and eating it either on its own or over a steak. They also make a fantastic cream of mushroom soup when you have a bunch of them!

Chicken of the Woods are very different, in that they have a much firmer texture and milder flavor, similar to (you guessed it), chicken! They don’t have gills, so they are a solid texture all the way through. When harvested young and cooked appropriately, you might not be able to tell the difference between mushroom and chicken without being told! This year, I found a good bunch of them around New Years that I battered and deep fried like a chicken strip and they were delicious! I’ve also diced them and cooked them similar to the oysters above, added a little cream to the sauce and eaten it over pasta.

Lion’s Mane are a little harder to find (I’ve only found a handful of them since I’ve been looking) but they are a real treat, in my book! From a distance, they look like a white, furry ball growing off the side of the tree, but when you get close enough you notice that they are actually covered by what looks like hundreds of tiny “teeth,” or “spines.” They almost look like a pom-pom, or (you guessed it, again) a lion’s mane! They have a firm, chewy texture and most people say they taste like lobster. For me, these are so unique that they just need a very simple preparation – I like to slice them about ½” thick and brown them in butter like a scallop.

Chanterelles are bright yellowy-orange mushrooms that grow out of the ground from the late spring through fall. They have a very unique flavor that is almost fruity. Many people say they taste like apricots. They also hold their texture pretty well while cooking. Because of this, my favorite thing to do with Chanterelles is actually to pickle them. You want the unique flavor of the Chanterelles to really come through, so don’t go overboard with spices… I use white wine vinegar with a tiny amount of bay leaf, thyme and black peppercorns. These are a REALLY good addition to a cheese and charcuterie board!

He’s where to find them:
Look for oysters, chickens and lions mane growing directly on trees or logs, and generally in the fall/winter seasons. When you find oysters, there will likely be somewhere between several and several dozen of them! There are many different species of oyster that come in a wide range of colors, but the only ones I’ve found here in Louisiana have been somewhere between a cream and a dark grey color. They grow in clusters, and almost always on dead hardwood. They prefer oak, but will grow on many other varieties as well. There’s a strain that can grow on pine, but by and large, I think that they really like hardwoods better.

Chickens are hard to miss… They look like bright orange and yellow “shelfs” growing off of oak logs, and can be quite large. You need to get them when they’re young and tender – the older they get, the tougher and “woodier” they become. Lions mane, on the other hand, are generally loners… They usually grow as a single unit about the size of your fist, but they are capable of growing much larger than that, I’m told. They can turn a little yellow as they get older, but a good fresh lions mane will be pure white and noticeably heavier than it looks!

Chanterelles grow in patches (but not in clusters) on the ground floor, around hardwoods, typically starting in the spring to early summer, though I’ve found them as late as December… Like Chickens, they are hard to miss because of their bright orange color, but they are much smaller than Chickens and actually look closer to a typical mushroom. You might see 2 or 3 growing together, or there could be dozens of them in a small patch. I don’t have much experience finding these where I hunt, but I know they find them by the truckloads in other parts of Louisiana and sell them.

Coming Tomorrow. Part 3 — heading to the kitchen!

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