Fiddleheads are harvested while the young fronds are still tightly coiled. The term fiddlehead is generally used in reference to the ostrich fern, although the bracken fern is also foraged. Fiddleheads from the ostrich fern grow in moist, humid areas – along riverbanks, fertile slopes and in rich-soiled valleys and fields. The bracken fern enjoys open, sunny places, woods, old pastures, and burned-over areas. West Coast specimens are green with brown or reddish streaks, while the East Coast variety is an unblemished emerald green with more tightly wound fronds. Fiddleheads taste a bit like asparagus, but without such a mucilaginous texture. This wild edible has a definite earthy taste; some describe hints of artichoke, turnip or even a faint fishy flavor. They must be cleaned in multiple changes of cold water, then dried. Most chefs then blanch them in boiling salted water followed by a shock in ice water to retain the vibrant green color.
Yellow, white, or black, the highly prized specimens from the genus Morchella have an oval to conical cap with a honeycomb-like ribbing and hollow stem. All fresh morels boast a nutty magnificence. Cooking suggestions: The deeply pitted ridges of a morel beg for a cream sauce. The characteristic hollow stem makes the morel ideal for stuffing whole – as long as you carefully remove the sand and grit and any lurking insects from those collected in the wild.
Shii is a type of oak tree in Japan. Take means mushroom. …a succulent, woody-tasting, medium-firm mushroom. A cold-weather shiitake strain called “snowcap” often has beautiful cracked patterns on its caps, due to the slower growth in the spring and autumn. This is a highly prized grade of shiitake (Donko) in Japan; meaty and succulent, it’s positioned as a choice mushroom at farmers’ markets. Cooking suggestions: Shiitakes exude a rich, full-bodied, earthy pungency that shines in Asian dishes. Shiitakes are chewy and firm enough to handle longer cooking times, so they work well in a stew, soup or braise. Reconstituted shiitakes will have a more concentrated flavor and aroma than their fresh counterpart (an ounce of dried shiitakes is about equivalent to half a pound of fresh).
Chefs adore chanterelles… Ranging in color from golden yellow to bright orange and bearing a rustic fluted cap, they are a natural beauty. The medium-firm texture and thick, tapering stem of the fruit bodies give you something substantial to work with. Cooking suggestions: Chanterelles and eggs are a lovely marriage. Tear the mushrooms, and then work them into omelets, scrambled eggs or frittatas. Chanterelles star as a simple side sautéed in butter or olive oil with garlic, parsley, and shallots.
Also known as “horn of plenty” and “trumpet of death,” the black trumpet is characterized by a long, hollow stem that flares into a fluted shape resembling the instrument whose name it bears. Black trumpets are not always black, appearing in other dark hues such as blue, gray and brown. Cooking suggestions: Because they are so dark – consider a dish with a contrasting color, such as a squash soup or pasta with spinach.
CHICKEN OF THE WOODS
Chicken of the Woods, so named because its thick, fibrous white flesh resembles the texture of chicken meat, is a delightful specimen to behold in the wild . With a smooth, wavy surface and knobby edges, this mushroom looks quite like a misshaped hand-fan. One variety of Chicken of the Woods sports a bright orange top and yellow bottom; another, a pale orange tip and cream-colored bottom. Cooking suggestions: Shred the dense flesh and use like poultry. This mushroom is best eaten fresh when it’s very young and tender.
With its fan-shaped, slightly convex cap with a shallow depression at the center and barely any stalk, this mushroom does, indeed, resemble an oyster shell. Found in clumps on logs, stumps, and rotting wood, the velvety-smooth oyster comes in many shades – from pearly white to pale gray to dingy yellow. …“sweeter than a shiitake and more fragrant.” Cooking suggestions: Oysters are versatile and ideal for adding delicate mushroom flavor to soups and sauces. Creamed oysters partner nicely with potatoes for a golden-crusted gratin or with egg noodles in a mushroom stroganoff heavy on the sour cream and scented with fresh dill. Be careful not to overcook oyster mushrooms because they have high water content; in addition, the yellow oysters will lose their color after prolonged cooking. They should be cooked “hot and fast”.