Venison and Wild Mushroom Stew

Spring means mushroom hunting. Aside from morels, I’ve branched out and found another edible: the pheasant back mushroom, also known as Dryad’s saddle, which also grows during the same time morels do. It grows on the trunks of dead trees, and like its namesake suggests, this mushroom boasts a beautiful brown pattern that is similar to the feathers on a pheasant’s back. It has an unmistakable melon or cucumber-like aroma, and is quite delicious when young. Here's a nice article on cooking them:

Young dryad's saddle on the left.
The first time we found some, I got lucky and was able to harvest a young specimen. Young pheasant backs are brown at the top, but as they get older, they become lighter in color. To determine if it’s tender enough for eating, look at the mushroom’s underside, which is porous. If you can easily scrape off the pores with your fingernails or knife that means the mushroom is tender. But if the pores are large and leathery, and the mushroom is difficult to cut, then the pheasant back is beyond its prime. You should be able to slice young pheasant backs as easily as mushrooms bought from the grocery store. Slice them thinly and use them however you like. They taste great pan seared to a crisp-- the smell is a lot like an omelet left to brown.

Old dryad's saddle mushrooms.
But what if you did find a mushroom past its prime? Now that I know what I know, I would normally suggest you to leave it be so that it can continue to propagate next year. But we wanted to experiment, so Rick brought home an older pheasant back to see what we could do with it. Judging by a photo Rick had sent to me earlier in the day, I had expected it to be too tough to eat, and we found that I was correct when we tried to slice it that night. On an online forum, several people suggested that we make a stock. That’s when I thought of “steeping” the old mushroom in a venison stew, which will allow it to give up its woodsy flavor. It was also a good opportunity to use up less desirable cuts of venison still left in the freezer this time of year. 

While inedible, even with a lot of cooking, the old pheasant back did give the stew another layer of flavor, which was surprisingly pungent. A little goes a long way. I suggest cooking the mushroom in the stew for about an hour, and then fishing it out to discard. Remember to NEVER eat mushrooms that you cannot positively identify.

To view the recipe for this Venison and Wild Mushroom Stew, visit Sportsman Channel online:


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