Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tastes Like Chicken

Tonight for dinner, we are having our annual Fall Fungus Risotto, starring a new special guest myco-entity, the Sulphur Shelf, aka Laetiporus sulphureus. The Fall Fungus Risotto tradition began early in this century when I found myself one October in Scotland, where I chanced to eat one of the best meals of my life (at the restaurant of a Holiday Inn Express, no less), which included a locally-foraged Autumn Mushroom Risotto.

This experience was too wonderful not to be attempted again, so each year I make my fall risotto with whatever I have on hand, usually some boughten crimini, a dried porcini stock and one or two fresh shrooms extracted from the woods.

We are running late this year, thanks to the wedding; the usual September-October mushroom flush is long gone. In fact, the whole autumn apparently occurred while I was not looking. My friend Pat’s photographs of beautiful local scenery record the foliage that completely escaped my attention while it was hanging right outside my window. This makes me think that in addition to its other bad qualities, excessive stress makes you blind.

However, Nature in her mercy has vouchsafed me a cure for Autumn Deficit Disorder: in spite of the late date, Pat discovered a big clump of a beautiful mushroom that at first we took to be Hen of the Woods. But when I, the ever-dutiful mushroom hunter, went to look it up, I found that it lacked the Hen’s gray color and ground-dwelling location. This beauty was orange, shelf-like and growing on a downed log. It was, in point of fact, not the Hen but the Chicken—Chicken Mushroom being another of its aliases. According to Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America, by David Fischer and Alan Bessette, we may have years of Sulphur Shelves at the Fall Fungus Festival, because they tend to re-grow on the same log for several seasons.

So my autumn has been redeemed with a mushroom new to me, which in its raw state smells dee-vine. It will share the stage with the humble criminis and porcinis we depend upon, as well as some onions from the farmers market, our home-grown garlic and some Arborio rice all the way from Italy. We will eat this glorious feast by the fireplace, accompanied by a nice Shiraz and not much else. I don’t believe in crowding the plate when there is something so extraordinary to concentrate on.

I’ll let you know how it all cooks up.


  1. Argh! Except for 1 cup, all the Arborio is still in Italy. We are going with wild rice from our friends in Manitoba, which could be quite good, but not for a number of hours.

  2. The non-risotto was delicious when it finally came out of the oven after cooking for three! hours!