Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Butter-boiled Beefsteak


  The Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica) gets mixed reviews. John Wright, in The River Cottage Mushroom Handbook, describes it as having, ‘a strongly acidic flavour, especially noticeable in the young fruit bodies…is quite unlike the subtle, mild flavours we are used to with most mushrooms and will appeal only to those with more robust palates.’ A rather damning indictment I’d say, unless I’m lucky enough to have a more robust palate?!  However, in his book, Wild Food - from which this recipe is lifted, Roger Phillips speaks highly of the not-so-boring Beefsteak, proclaiming this recipe as a, ‘5-star dish; definitely one of my favourite mushroom recipes.’
  The Beefsteak Fungus is one of the many mushrooms that are eaten and highly prized on the continent, but ignored in Britain. The first time I cooked with it (simply by frying with butter), I was definitely in concurrence with the Brits - the taste was, well, non-existent.  After trying this recipe, however, I will put my hands up and wave my fungal white flag, how wrong I was.

Beefsteak Fungus is parasitic and lives mostly on oak, particularly ageing or dead oak (I have found specimens on felled and rotting oak logs on the floor), you may also find it on sweet chestnut, though less frequently. Again, the specimens I have found on sweet chestnut have been on an old or dying trunk. So, look for oak and sweet chestnut, particularly older/dying/dead specimens, from late summer to autumn and cross your fingers (and your toes) that you find one.



Beefsteak growing on dead oak

Blood-like goo that often coats the surface, particularly after rain

Underside of the fungus

The juice looks rather alarmingly like blood


Now for the recipe, and what a simple one at that!

Roger Phillips states the following quantities and ingredients in his book, Wild Food;

- 450g Beefsteak Fungus
- 6 shallots
- 3 cloves garlic
- Thyme
- Pepper and salt
- Butter

As I found only one Beefsteak on the foray yesterday, I adjusted the quantities accordingly; using only one shallot and one clove of garlic.

Clean and cut the beefsteak fungus into fine slices and place in a frying pan with finely chopped shallots and garlic. Barely cover with water and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the water has taken on a red hue. Add pepper, salt, thyme and a generous knob of butter and cook until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce.


Thinly-sliced Beefsteak - you can see where it gets its name from!






After you have cranked the heat up and reduced the sauce to a thick, creamy consistency simply put on a piece of toast or enjoy on its own, feel good food at its best, a real warmer on a chilly autumnal eve.

Although the firm flesh of the mushroom is in itself no gastronomic big-hitter (though still perfectly pleasant), the flavour of the sauce is absolutely magnificent - I defy anyone in a blind taste test to not think that it was a red wine reduction. It's so rich that just using the juices as a veggie gravy could well be the best use for this mushroom.


Cockle-warming-ly rich






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