Unusual Ingredient: The Fried Chicken Mushroom

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It seems like this is a good year for mushrooms, at least in Northern California. In Berkeley, you can find heaps of delicious looking wild mushrooms at fairly reasonable prices, especially chanterelles, which come in many colors (white, yellow, black.) But what caught my eye recently is the oddly named Fried Chicken Mushroom. Is it true? Does it really taste like fried chicken? At $8.99 a pound, I picked up a small handful for around $2, and took them back to my kitchen to find out. But first, some botany! The Fried Chicken mushroom's latin name is Lyophyllum decastes and it is part of the Lyophyllaceae family of fungi. It can usually be found growing in dense clusters on disturbed soil like roadbeds, paths and landscaped areas. Occasionally it will be found in the woods. Here in Northern California, its season is fall through spring. It can also be found in other parts of Northern America in the summer and fall.

As you can see from the photo above, my fried chicken mushrooms were quite dirty. To clean them I filled a basin with warmish water and swished them around in it, using my fingers to gently rub them to dislodge the dirt. (While it's OK to expose mushrooms to some water for a short period of time, it's not OK to leave them soaking for long.) I left them to drain on a kitchen towel, turning them frequently to help all the water run off.

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Cooking them was easy. I just sliced them in half lengthwise and fried them in butter, with a splash of grapeseed oil to keep the butter from burning. I made sure my frying pan was very hot before I added the fat and that the fat was hot when I added the mushrooms. I let them sit in the pan, cut side down, until they were seared and golden, then I flipped them and seared the other side. Somewhere in there I added a pinch of Maldon sea salt. It took about 4 or 5 minutes total for the larger mushrooms to finish cooking; the smaller ones took about 3 minutes.

To taste the mushrooms, I ate them straight up, with a little pepper cracked over the top. How were they? Delicious! Rich and meaty, moist and crispy, with lots of sweet, nutty flavor. I'm sorry to say that they really didn't taste like fried chicken to me. Still, I can see why they have that name, based on the juicy, meaty texture. (Although some of that may have to do with how I cooked them.)

In conclusion, I will definitely purchase these mushroom again, Sure, they took a little effort to clean but they were worth it for their texture and sweet mushroomy flavor. I would use them in dishes where their flavor can really come forward, such as in scrambled eggs and creme fraiche for a special breakfast, or in a simple pasta dish or cream-based mushroom soup. I bet a little bit of finely chopped garlic thrown in at the end of cooking would be delicious, as well as a few sprigs of fresh thyme.

Residents and visitors of the San Francisco Bay Area can look for Fried Chicken mushrooms at the Monterey Market in Berkeley (secret confession: it's my favorite place to purchase produce, outside of the farmers' markets, in the East Bay).

(Note: We recommend that you only purchase mushrooms for eating from a reputable dealer or establishment. This post is not a guide for finding, picking and eating mushrooms on your own.)

Related: My Mushroom Hunting Weekend

(Images: Dana Velden)

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