Have you ever heard of boiling mushrooms? Most likely not. But many learned this trick on April 20 when the Sippican Lands Trust hosted chef and mushroom hunter Chad Hyatt. The virtual talk is part of a new series of talks and presentations that the SLT has planned.
Hyatt spoke from the epicenter of his home in California, the kitchen, where he stirred pots of bubbling mushrooms, sauteed onions into caramelized goodness, prepared a cream of mushroom soup minus the cream, and made a black trumpet preserve. One could almost smell the fragrances.
Hyatt is not only a chef; he is also a mushroom hunter. As he casually cooked away, Hyatt talked about his adventures in hunting mushrooms in their native habitats, woodlands across the globe. He’s foraged for mushrooms in New England and California, as well as Spain.
But before we get too far along in this story, let us talk about boiling mushrooms. Hyatt said that chefs have always been told to avoid getting mushrooms wet, “But boiling them won’t make them turn to mush.”
Taking a moment to give the virtual audience a bit of a science lesson, Hyatt explained that mushrooms lack the cellulose that makes up the majority of plants on the planet. “Boiling plants melts the cellulose, and they will turn to mush,” he said.
Taking the lesson one step further, Hyatt said that mushrooms are composed of the same natural elements found in seashells, a compound known as chitin. Chitin makes up the cell walls of mushrooms and is also the primary material of creatures with exoskeletons such as lobsters and scorpions. Science is simply amazing. The more we think we know, the more we have to learn.
Regarding plants’ root systems versus how a mushroom grows was another intriguing scientific point Hyatt imparted.
When we harvest plants, we often pull them out of the ground along with their root systems, leaving none of the organism in the ground, Hyatt said. Mushrooms, however, are connected underground via a vein-like system. When the exposed part of the mushroom is harvested, the organism remains in place underground. Hyatt said the biggest threat to mushrooms is not the mushroom hunter. “You can take all the mushrooms, you see, and you still won’t harm the organism,” he said. The biggest problem for mushrooms is the same problem threatening thousands if not millions of other living things – loss of habitat.
Back to cooking mushrooms.
Hyatt said that the boiled mushrooms will be soft and rich with a delicate meaty texture suitable for a variety of dishes. He demonstrated how to make a simple soup of mushrooms, onions, thyme, and other savory herbs. Taking some of the water from the pot in which he had boiled some mushrooms, he added that to the onions/mushroom mixture, brought it up to a boil, added some dry white wine to deglaze the sauté pan, then pureed the mixture, creating a creamy soup minus the cream. “Vegans will love this,” he assured the viewers.
Hyatt also demonstrated the steps for making black trumpet preserves. The chef took caramelized onions, added some brown sugar and sauteed black trumpets, pureed the concoction, and placed it in a sealed jar. He said he serves the preserves with cheeses and cured meats as an appetizer.
As he chatted away, giving advice and demonstrating cook techniques, he was also encouraging his audience to try mushroom hunting, but to start slowly and to ask for assistance from experts in the field of mycology. “There are mushroom hunting clubs and associations across the country,” Hyatt asserted. He said that such organizations will have a membership willing to assist the novice.
Hyatt also said to start by identifying just one or two mushrooms in the wild, to select trees that will most likely support the growth of fungi, and not to be afraid. But he did caution not to eat any mushrooms without first receiving assurances that they are edible, and that mushrooms should be eaten only after cooking. One seriously important tip Hyatt stressed: “Stay away from gilled mushrooms; many are poisonous.” While button and portobello varieties are gilled, the rule of thumb for wild mushroom picking is to avoid the gilled ones.
There are four varieties of mushrooms: saprotrophic, mycorrhizal, parasitic, and endophytic. Those titles denote the type of nutrient-absorbing behavior the mushroom employs. Think rotting tree stumps and manure.
The rarest form of mushroom is the elusive and obscenely expensive truffle, while the deadliest is the amanita phalloides or death cap. Of the 50,000 known varieties of mushrooms, a mere 2 percent are poisonous.
Back in the Hyatt kitchen, the chef also made a mushroom ceviche. Taking the boiled button mushrooms, he gave them a chop, added hot chili pepper minced, salt, black pepper, and a goodly amount of lime juice. Before serving he said to top with cilantro. With his imaginary chef’s hat firmly in place, he said the lime juice cooks the ingredients the same way it would cook raw fish if he were making a fish ceviche. Who knew?
As Hyatt’s presentation drew to a close, he suggested other ways to cook mushrooms such as breaded and deep fried. And on the hunting side of the topic, he said that spring is the best season to find morels, summer is the time for black trumpets and chanterelles, and in the fall the popular hen of the woods appears.
If you want to learn more about mushrooms and mushroom hunting and to connect with a local mushroom group, visit capecodmushroom.org. Also visit Hyatt’s website themushroomhunterskitchen.com, where you will also find a link to his book “The Mushroom Hunter’s Kitchen.” For information on upcoming presentations ,such as Dr. Jen Francis discussing climate change, Dr. Greg Skoal updating his work on observing and tracking sharks along the east coast, and Hillary Sandler of the University of Massachusetts Cranberry Station, visit sippicanlandstrust.org.
Sippican Lands Trust
By Marilou Newell