Friday, October 16, 2015

Mushroom Envy?

For the past couple of weeks, I've been showing off pictures of a giant puffball mushroom that I found on the job. On Tuesday, hanging out at the beautiful Bell House before the Secret Science Club lecture, I made sure to show off the picture of my find. As luck would have it, I also found a bunch of puffballs in Van Cortlandt Park while walking to the Woodlawn station on the number 4 subway line:

The regular Tuesday front-of-house bartender, a very charming young woman with a quick wit and a gift for snappy patter, asked me, "Do you live in Wonderland?" "No", I replied, "it's just fungus infested." You're only as good as your ensemble cast, and I'm fortunate to have a great troupe both online and in what passes for the real world. The other regular bartender, a nice low-key gentleman from Colombia, when hearing that I was planning on returning to the park to grab the two biggest puffballs (the largest is almost the size of a volleyball), expressed skepticism... "Are you sure nobody's peeing on them?" As a guy who likes to drink in Brooklyn and follow up the night out with an hourlong subway ride, I pretty much know the best places to pee between the subway station and home. I think I'll be safe and, besides, I have no qualms about eating kidneys...

The new Tuesday night manager of the Bell House used to run the Urban Rustic concession front of house, so he's an old friend and a culinary connoisseur. On seeing the puffball pictures, he brought up the topic of the hen of the woods mushroom (Grifola frondosa), known in Japan as the maitake. This mushroom, which typically grows on dead or dying hardwood trees (most commonly oaks) is particularly prized.

As luck would have it, my friend Mark had received a portion of a hen of the woods as a present from a neighbor. He actually brought the mushroom as a present to Secret Science genius Margaret Mittelbach (whose book you should buy), and Margaret was kind enough to give me a portion of this 'shroom. I wrapped the portion in several paper towels and stuck it into my pocket for the ride home. On my way to the subway station, I picked up a copy of the Village Voice (Roy's column is back)- as luck would have it, it was the "Best of New York 2015" issue, and a lot of the restaurant blurbs mentioned hen of the woods as a hot seasonal ingredient. Talk about a weird set of coincidences, from conversation to 'shroom acquisition to newspaper blurbs...

Was I suffering from a case of mushroom envy, seeing a bigger, more prized mushroom than my puffball? Not after that thing hit the skillet when I came home:

It was delicious, sauteed in a bit of butter and unadorned- why mess with perfection? Here's a hearty thank you to Mark, Margaret, and the guy who actually found this mushroom. There's not a hint of mushroom envy at play here!


Chickpea said...

Not so much mushroom envy, but mushroom knowledge envy. I have shrooms popping up in my garden but I'm too much of a scaredy cat to eat them. Most of us have lost the foraging knowledge in a world of supermarkets. May have to settle for a mushroom growing kit.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Congrats on the hen-of-the-woods! Other than the puffballs (which are impossible to mistake for anything else, except perhaps a monster from Ghostbusters) I tend to follow chickopea's method.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I wish I had mushroom knowledge, CC! I stick to puffballs. The hen of the woods was a gift. I am comfortable with looking for them now, having seen one up close and knowing they have no poisonous lookalikes.

I'm learning, thunder, slowly but surely.