Marvelous mushrooms: wild local food

You can head out in the rain forest on British Columbia's wild west coast to forage for mushrooms, but you can also grow a crop of beautiful black oyster, shiitake and shaggy Lion's Mane mushrooms in your own kitchen. Here's how it's done with a kit, and here's how to cook up your marvelous crop in some tasty recipes.


A haul of fresh, cultivated oyster mushrooms and Lion's Mane from Comox Valley Mushrooms, at the Cumberland Farmer's Market (Cinda Chavich photo)

By CINDA CHAVICH


The stout box that arrives from Foragers Galley is my kind of DIY project — one that guarantees gourmet results.

Right now, it’s just a block of moist, inoculated substrate, but with a little time and TLC, this box promises a delicious crop of home-grown Black Pearl oyster mushrooms in less than a month.

And it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Not only will I have two (and up to four) “flushes” or crops from this Grow-at-Home kit, but the instructions also say that if I bury the spent growing medium (a mixture of sawdust and legume waste) in my garden, there’s a good chance I’ll have lovely oyster mushrooms popping up for years to come.


MUSHROOM GROWING IS GROWING

Foragers Galley is a small mushroom farm in West Saanich, the brainchild of keen foragers and fast friends Jonathan Wright, Janusz Urban and Brendan Harris.

They are hand-cultivating a variety of gourmet mushrooms in the temperature-controlled environment of a shipping container and selling their small crops of Black King Pearl (BKP's), Blue Oysters, Lion's Mane and Chestnut mushrooms to chefs and small grocers around Victoria. They still get out into the woods to forage wild golden chanterelles, morels, fat porcini and lobster mushrooms in season, but this growing operation has added a whole new dimension to their business.

“It started as a passion project,” says Wright who says his bearded buddies love to sail and hike around the region, hunting, fishing and foraging for wild foods of all kinds, from sea asparagus and gooseneck barnacles, to salmon berries and wild mushrooms. But the mushroom farm takes their fascination with fungi to the next level.

“We have a sterile lab where we grow the culture out and a fruiting chamber with controlled conditions,” he says. “We can grow 200 pounds of mushrooms a week. And now we have our mushrooms and grow kits in over 30 retailers and on more than a dozen restaurant menus.”



I grew a giant Lions's Mane mushroom (and a second one after the first was harvested) in my kitchen with a kit from Forager's Galley (Cinda Chavich photo)

Foragers Galley plans to expand with a second facility in the Cowichan Valley this year (2022) and produce some value-added mushroom products, included pickled shiitakes and dried mushroom rubs.

It’s a similar story up island, where the family-run Comox Valley Mushrooms produces a variety of colourful pink, blue, golden and black oyster mushrooms, plus lion’s mane, shiitake, matsutake and unusual varieties like elm and chestnut mushrooms for local chefs and markets. You’ll find them selling fresh mushrooms at the Cumberland Farmer’s Market, and you can buy direct online or even sign up for one of their mushroom cultivation workshops.


Once you’ve honed your mushroom-growing skills, you can create your own expanded set up, complete with a domed grow box or indoor mushroom growing tent, from Myco.ca based in Duncan. They specialize in equipment and supplies for mycology enthusiasts, both hobbyist and commercial growers, with growing mediums and liquid cultures of medicinal reishi and turkey tail mushrooms, and edible oyster and lion’s mane, to get your fungi experiments started.

Myco also sells a mini MushBox kit complete with the colonized substrate and soil required to grow a variety of mushrooms. Or you can find inoculated blocks of red alder, ready to grow shiitake or oyster mushrooms, from Salt Spring Sprouts and Mushrooms at the Moss Street Market.




MARVELOUS MUSHROOM MEALS

Wild mushrooms are a special treat but cultivated oyster and shiitake mushrooms are also a culinary revelation when compared to the usual supermarket staples, whether from a farm or a grow-at-home kit.

After a quick, hot sauté in a little butter, each oyster mushroom I tried had a distinct texture, flavour and character that was miles from the ubiquitous button. The blue oyster was mild and velvety, while the sweet king oyster cooked to dense crispy perfection.

Wright recommends the pink oyster as a vegan ham substitute and says the large black King Oyster can be simply seasoned and grilled. The chunky white Lion’s Mane, with its many hairy spikes, is large (reaching 1.5 pounds) and dense, making a meaty mushroom steak or offering a crab-like texture when cooked and pulled apart.

Chef Castro Boateng breads Lion’s Mane and serves it as a vegan “fried chicken” with curry and coconut braised lentils. He also serves crispy oyster mushroom “wings” with fermented carrots and his harissa aioli for dipping.

“Vegan mushroom wings are on our snack menu, dipped in a tempura batter and fried until nice and crispy,” says Boateng who buys 70+ pounds of mushrooms from Foragers Galley each week. “These guys grow mushrooms and are really knowledgeable — they’re giving us top quality mushrooms.”

In fact, whether it’s seared sablefish with chanterelles, mushroom risotto with lion’s mane, cauliflower mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms, or braised short ribs with foraged mushrooms, Boateng features fungi in almost every dish.

“We slice the lion’s mane and batter and fry it or marinate it with olive oil and herbs and grill it like a steak,” he says. “The texture is almost like meat.”

These gourmet mushrooms are popping up on other menus, too. The chefs at Agrius pair oyster mushrooms with local fish and you can order a Mushroom Quesadilla Kit from Maiiz Nixtamal, complete with hand-made tortillas, local cheese curds, and a grow-your-own kit from Foragers Galley for blue oyster mushrooms.

Mushrooms offer meaty texture and umami, whether simply sauteed in butter and eaten as an appetizer on crostini, in a creamy pasta sauce or soup, or fast fried with garlic, shallots and white wine to dump over a grilled steak. Try raw enoki mushrooms in a salad or Asian noodle bowl, and shiitakes, cooked with sesame oil and soy, in stir fries or ramen.


MUSHROOMS AS MEDICINE

We all know how delicious wild mushrooms are, but the latest buzz about the fruiting bodies of our forest fungi is their medicinal qualities.

Many are prized for their culinary and functional properties. Oyster mushrooms are loaded with protein, fibre and all essential amino acids, plus B vitamins like niacin and Riboflavin. Shaggy Lion’s Mane mushrooms are both a delicacy and a brain booster. The savoury Japanese shiitake marries well with Asian ingredients and contains compounds to increase immunity and reduce cholesterol.

And medicinal mushrooms, from chaga to fan-shaped turkey tail mushrooms and reiki, are popping up in all kinds of powders and products, touted as potential miracles for people (and pets) suffering various health problems, ranging from cancer to depression.

There are many different types of mushrooms growing in the wild forests of British Columbia (and across Canada) but many are inedible (simply not tasty) while some are deadly if consumed. So always forage carefully with an expert, and be careful that your children or your dogs don't eat mushrooms when you're out for a walk in the woods. Buying your mushrooms from a reputable forager, or growing your own is always the best bet.



American mycologist and mushroom evangelist Paul Stamets uses his books and TED talks to spread the word about his mushroom discoveries. Stamets says oyster mushrooms can remove toxins from the environment, digesting plastics and other pollutants, from oil spills and PCBs to nuclear waste.

Rare mushrooms, like the Agarikon found only in the bits of old growth forest still standing on this coast, may protect us from future pandemics, he says. During a recent research trip to BC, Stamets collected 80 strains of the ancient mushroom on Cortes Island, with plans to culture the fungus at his Fungi Perfecti farm in Olympia, Washington, to treat COVID-19 patients.


A mycelium extract from the polypore (bracket fungi) growing on trees on Cortes may also fight viruses that affect honeybees and lead to colony collapse, he says.


MAGICAL MUSHROOMS

It was the late James Barber (TV’s Urban Peasant) who made cultivated BC mushrooms “marvellous” for Canadian consumers, and he would no doubt concur that the new island mushroom growers are onto something very good.

Here on the wet west coast, wild mushrooms flourish in the old growth, whether the valuable matsutake (pine mushroom) or the dark, conical morel that blankets the spring forest after a burn. There are golden chanterelles in the fall, wild oyster mushrooms and woody medicinal turkey tails sprouting from tree trunks.

“Mushrooms are deeply embedded in the culture of the west coast,” says grower and forager Wright.

We’re also just beginning to learn more about how the fungi and the forest are inextricably linked — a support system of underground mycelium, nourishing and sharing information among trees, and a blueprint for a healthier understanding of our own place in the natural world.

A new study found eating mushrooms lowers the risk of depression, and that’s not only the hallucinogenic “magic mushroom” with its psychedelic psilocybin. Apparently eating almost any mushroom will improve your mental health, because fungi contain the amino acid ergothioneine which can reduce anxiety.

That may be why this box on my kitchen counter, promising a gorgeous cluster of velvety black oyster mushrooms, has me giddy with anticipation and joy!



MUSHROOM RECIPES:


OYSTER MUSHROOM WINGS

At House of Boateng, chef Castro Boateng serves crispy tempura-battered Foragers Galley Blue Pearl oyster mushrooms as a starter with his HOB mango hot sauce, jerk and harissa aioli (available at HOB Fine Foods in Langford or from their online shop). Here’s a recipe that approximates his vegetarian appetizer.


1 pound large oyster mushrooms


Tempura batter:

½ cup cake flour, plus extra for dusting (or well sifted all-purpose flour)

1/4 teaspoon shichimi togarashi, Japanese 7-spice chili pepper, plus more for garnish

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 egg, beaten

½ cup chilled sparkling water (add ice to insure it’s very cold)


Canola or peanut oil for deep frying


Hot sauces and spicy aioli for dipping



Trim off any growing medium from the base of the oyster mushrooms and separate into individual mushrooms or small clusters, leaving the stems on.

Place mushrooms in a bag and shake with a few tablespoons of flour, chili pepper and salt, just to coat them lightly.

Combine dry ingredients for batter, then whisk in the egg and sparkling water, using chopsticks, just to barely combine. Do not over mix – it’s important to leave the batter a bit lumpy. Refrigerate batter while you heat the oil.

Heat 2-3 inches of oil in a deep pan, wok or deep fryer, to 340-350 F.

Dip a mushroom in the batter to coat completely, letting any excess drain off. Using tongs, gently lower mushrooms, one at a time, into the oil. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry the mushrooms until they are golden and crisp, flipping once to brown all sides, about 5 minutes in total. Use a slotted spoon to lift mushrooms out of the oil and drain on paper towel, then place on a rack in a 200 F oven to keep warm while you fry the remaining mushrooms.

Serve with hot sauce or chili mayo (aioli) for dipping.


MUSHROOM PÂTÉ

This spreadable vegetarian pâté features a mixture of wild and cultivated mushrooms. For a gluten-free option, replace breadcrumbs with toasted ground walnuts or cashews.


2 cups minced onions

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound mixed mushrooms (portobello, shiitake, oyster, white and/or brown), minced

1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs

½ cup white wine

3 fresh bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

¼ pound butter

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce (or other hot sauce to taste)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Generous pinch freshly ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons brandy

1 tablespoon organic baking powder

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Use the food processor to mince the onions and garlic. In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the minced onion/garlic mixture for 10 minutes until softened and starting to brown.

If using portobellos, use a teaspoon to scrape out most of the dark gills. Chop the mushrooms into large chunks and add to the food processor, pulsing to finely chop.

Add mushrooms to the sautéed onions and cook together over low heat for 15 minutes.

Combine the breadcrumbs and wine.

Add the bay leaves, thyme, butter and breadcrumb mixture to the mushrooms and stir to combine well. Continue to cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, or until the mixture is quite dry. Remove from heat, mix in the sriracha, soy sauce, nutmeg and baking powder. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon mushroom pate into individual small jars or bowls, cover and refrigerate. Spread on crackers or baguette to serve. Keep refrigerated or freeze for storage.

Makes about 3 cups.


MUSHROOM AND POTATO BISQUE

With exotic mushrooms, a little potato for body, and just a touch of fresh cream, this mushroom soup is worlds away from the supermarket staple, and healthier, too. For a fancy presentation, sauté some extra chopped mushrooms with garlic in butter and spoon over each portion to garnish.

From The Waste Not, Want Not Cookbook by Cinda Chavich (Touchwood Editions).


1 tablespoon olive oil 1 small onion or large shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¾ lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and grated

1 cup finely chopped wild and cultivated mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, lion’s mane, morel, cèpe, etc.)

4 cups homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1⁄2 cup heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat, and sauté the onion and garlic until softened. Add the potatoes and mushrooms and continue to cook until the mushrooms begin to give up their moisture, about 5 minutes.

Add the stock, bay leaf, thyme, and tomato paste, and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer the soup for 30 minutes. The potatoes should break down and thicken the soup.

Stir in the cream and heat through. For a silky smooth bisque, purée half or all of the soup in a blender (or use an immersion hand blender). Season with salt and pepper. Serves 4.



CHANTERELLE RISOTTO

The new Island Eats cookbook by Joanne Sasvari and Dawn Postnikoff features recipes from chefs across the island, along with this one from Chef Maartyn Hoogeveen of Unsworth restaurant. Hoogeveen uses wild, island-foraged chanterelles but says they can be replaced with other flavourful varieties like oyster or morel mushrooms.


1/2 cup (1 stick) + 2 tablespoons butter, divided

1 pound chanterelle (or other mushrooms), cleaned

Salt and pepper to taste

3 cups mushroom stock or chicken stock

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 cup arborio rice

¼ cup Unsworth 2018 Allegro white wine (or other crisp white wine)

½ cup grated Parmesan

¼ cup crumbled chevre (preferably from Haltwhistle Cheese Co.)

2 tablespoons chopped tarragon

¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted


Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan over medium heat and sauté mushrooms 4-5 minutes, until softened. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Bring stock to a boil in a small saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and cook onion for 1 minute. Add garlic and cook another few seconds — don’t let the onion brown. Stir in the rice and mix to coat with oil. Stir in wine and cook until it is reduced by three quarters, then add a ladle of hot stock, stirring frequently until liquid is nearly all absorbed. Continue this process until the rice is al dente, creamy and moist, using all or most of the stock and cooking for about 25 minutes in total.

Remove pan from heat. Cube remaining ½ cup of butter and quickly stir into risotto, along with Parmesan and chevre. Add tarragon and half the cooked mushrooms and combine.

Divide the risotto between four bowls, top with remaining mushrooms and sliced almonds. Serves 4.



MUSHROOM RISOTTO

A basic risotto is a blank slate for almost any addition — think asparagus, winter squash, crumbled sausage — but mushrooms are a natural fit with this creamy Italian dish. Risotto is a classic comfort food, and something you can make when there’s nothing in the cupboard but some rice, chicken broth and a heel of Parmesan in the fridge, and, with exotic mushrooms, it’s a fine feast. It’s fast food, too — cooked in 20 minutes flat. Just remember to serve it immediately. Risotto waits for no one.


4 cups broth (vegetable or chicken, homemade if possible)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter 1 cup minced yellow onion

2 big cloves garlic, minced 2 cups fresh (and/or dry and rehydrated), sliced mushrooms (oyster, lion’s mane, porcini, morel, chanterelle, shiitake)

1 cup risotto rice (arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano) 1⁄4cup white wine 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to garnish


Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan over high heat, then reduce the heat to low to keep the broth hot.

Meanwhile, in a wide, non-stick sauté pan, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes until softened but not browned. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until the mushrooms give up their liquid and begin to brown.

Stir in the rice and cook for about a minute, until the rice is coated and shiny. Then add the wine, stirring until it is completely absorbed.

Now begin adding the hot broth, about 1⁄2 cup at a time. Stir the risotto with a wooden spoon until the broth is absorbed, and continue adding broth, 1⁄2 cup at a time and stirring frequently, until the broth is used up and the rice is cooked al dente (toothsome and tender, but not mushy). The entire cooking process will take 20 to 25 minutes.

Stir in the Parmesan cheese and another 2 tablespoons of broth, then cover the pan and let the risotto rest for 2 minutes. Serve in wide, shallow bowls, sprinkled with additional grated cheese. Serves 4.


MUSHROOM PESTO

Chef and author Bill Jones is the local expert on mushrooms and offers mushroom dinners and foraging workshops at his Deerholme Farm in the Cowichan Valley. Here’s a recipe from The Deerholme Farm Foraging Book for a pesto to toss with pasta, slather on toasts or pizza. Freezes well.


2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

1 cup chopped onions

8 cups wild or cultivated mushrooms (can be a blend)

2 tablespoons each: chopped garlic, chopped fresh sage, chopped fresh parsley, chopped fresh rosemary

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon hot sauce


Heat grapeseed oil over high heat. When oil is very hot, add the onions and saute until they begin to soften. Add the mushrooms to the hot pan and season with salt and pepper. The mushrooms should immediately release moisture. Add the garlic, sage, parsley and rosemary, and saute until all of the moisture is evaporated and the mushrooms begin to stick to the pan. Transfer to a bowl to cool slightly.

Place the mushrooms into a food processor and pulse to chop, then puree to a paste, slowly adding the olive oil in a steady stream. You should have a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt and hot sauce. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze (up to 3 months. Makes about 2 cups.