Dryad's Saddle Mushroom Duxelles
When out hunting for morel mushrooms in May, be on the look out for these tasty (and often over-looked) fungi. The Dryad's Saddle, or Pheasant Back mushroom finds its home on dead or dying elm trees. Make note of these trees because they will continue to produce throughout the early spring and again the fall.
The mushrooms look like shelves that come out from the tree and have markings on the top-side that resemble a pheasant's back in tones of tan and reddish-brown. The underside of this mushroom is creamy white and has tiny pores (not gills). Sizes range from 2-3 inches to over 16 inches across! When cut, the mushroom smells like watermelon rind or cucumbers. Its very easy to identify, but be sure to consult a guide book or a local expert before consuming as with all foraged mushrooms.
The downside to this mushroom is its tenancy to be woody. This can be a tricky mushroom to identify specimens fit for culinary consumption. With most mushrooms, the larger the mushroom, the older (and tougher) seems to be the rule, but not with this one! Small mushrooms can be hard as a rock, and large mushrooms can be tender. The trick that I have found to identifying tenderness is the pore size. If you see pores that look like little dots, you should pick that mushroom! If the pores are more open, elongated or pronounced, leave it. Mark the tree, however, and come back in the fall or even a few days later. The large mushrooms keep producing over several weeks.
These mushrooms are great additions to soups, stews, and just about everywhere you would use a standard white button mushroom (but don't eat these raw!). Their firm texture can hold up to long applications of heat, too. To prepare them, I like to cut off the pore section as if I am filleting a fish. I don't like the spongy texture.
Normally when I find these, I find pounds and pounds of them! So I really need a way to prepare them for longer storage. Drying is great - cut into strips using a mandolin or sharp knife and dry in a low oven. I feel, unlike some other wild mushrooms, some of the flavor is lost in the drying process. So I normally make a duxelles (pronounced dook-sel) to freeze. My recipe is below.
Dryad's Saddle Duxelles
2 lbs of roughly chopped dryad's saddle mushrooms, pores and tough stems removed
2-3 shallots (or, if you find them, use 3-4 finely chopped ramps, red or white parts only)
2 TBS butter
4 TBS to 1/4 cup oil (I normally use olive oil)
1/2 cup dry sherry, white wine or dry vermouth
4 TBS chopped parsley or 1/2 TBS chopped thyme (I left this out in the photos below because I didn't want a traditional herbal profile.)
Salt and pepper to taste
Add the mushrooms to a food processor to create a fine texture. Go from something like the photo on the left to the one on the right.
Add butter and a touch of oil to the pan and add the processed mushrooms, shallots, a few pinches of salt, and herbs.
Stir frequently until mushrooms look dry and are beginning to brown.
Stir in remaining oil, and, when heated, add in the sherry.
Cook, stirring frequently until the sherry has evaporated. Adjust salt, add pepper to taste.
Pack into clean, wide-mouth 1/2 pint jars and let cool. When cool, freeze or refrigerate for immediate use.
If you are using immediately, use within a week. Freezing will last 6-9 months.
My favorite way to use duxelles is as a stuffing for rolled meats. There will be a recipe in the near future for this!