On warm, early-spring days when I’m out hunting for Morels, most often I’m likely to come across Polyporus squamosus, aka Pheasant Back, aka Dryad’s Saddle Mushrooms. As much as I love Morels, I’m never sad to find these instead.
Pheasant Backs grow directly on dead hardwood, particularly Elms, and they love super wet areas. As you can see in the photo, the topside of this shelf mushroom has a feather-like pattern to it. The bottom has small pores rather than gills. It is thick and meaty, and dry to the touch, not slimy or wet-feeling. The smell is really interesting – not mushroom-y at all, more like cucumber or watermelon rind!
These mushrooms can get quite large, and contrary to advice I’ve seen from others, smaller isn’t always better. For the best eating experience, you want this mushroom to be tender, and while it does tend to get tough as it gets older, size isn’t always the best indicator of tenderness. Rather, take a knife and touch it to the edge of the mushroom. Put just a small amount of pressure on the knife to push it into the mushroom. As soon as you feel resistance, stop there and cut just that tender part around the edge. For some mushrooms, it’ll be the whole thing up to the little nub that was connected to the wood. For others, it’ll be just a half-inch or so around the edge. Those tender bits are absolutely delicious when fried up in some butter. Make ’em crispy and salty to resemble bacon bits if you’d like. 🙂
Now don’t throw away the tougher part – use that to make soup stock! Either make the stock and freeze it…..or….cut up that tougher part, put it in the dehydrator, and save it to make stock later.
Another thing I love about this mushroom is that it’s not just around for one season – I’ll find it throughout most of the growing season, though it’s most abundant in Spring and Fall.
I hope you find whatever you are hunting for this year. And I hope you find and try some Pheasant Backs, too. 🙂