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.
The first time, 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.
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. But we wanted to experiment, so my fiancé, 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.
NOTE: Never eat mushrooms that you cannot positively identify.
Prep time: 2 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Total time: 12 mins
- 1 pound of venison stew meat
- 2-3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 ounces of old pheasant back (Dryad’s saddle) mushrooms
- 3 slices of thick-cut bacon, chopped
- Herbs: 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, 2 sprigs of rosemary, 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
- ¾ cup of dry red wine
- 2 cans of low-sodium chicken or beef broth
- ½ teaspoon of Hungarian paprika
- 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
- 4 yellow potatoes
- 3 carrots, diced
- Chopped parsley, for garnish
- Buttered and toasted French bread
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. To prepare pheasant back mushrooms, rinse well in water and dry with paper towels. With a fillet knife, shave off and discard the porous layer underneath the mushrooms. Cut mushrooms into large but manageable pieces—you’ll need to fish them out of the stew later. Set aside.
2. Add chopped bacon to a cold Dutch oven. Turn on heat to medium and allow bacon to render. Meanwhile, dab venison dry with paper towels and cut into 1-inch chunks, keeping silver skin on. Sprinkle salt and pepper over meat and toss with enough flour to lightly coat. When bacon has rendered, remove pieces to a plate and set aside. Turn up heat to medium-high and brown venison in the grease. Don’t cook the venison through—you just want a nice golden crust around the cubes. Remove meat and set aside with bacon.
3. Add more oil to pan as necessary. Add the pheasant back mushrooms and brown on both sides for a light golden color. Then add the chopped onion, herbs and salt to taste. Sauté until onions soften, about 5 minutes. Then lower heat to medium and mix in tomato paste and garlic, stir for 30 seconds. Add the red wine and allow mixture bubble and reduce for about 3-5 minutes.
4. Return bacon and browned venison to the pot. Add broth, Hungarian paprika and coriander. Bring to a low boil. Cut yellow potatoes into large chunks and nestle into the stew. Liquids should nearly cover all ingredients, and if not, add more broth or water. Cover Dutch oven with foil, and then place the lid on top of the foil; this helps to prevent moisture from escaping. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 2.5 to 3 hours, or until venison is tender. Halfway through cooking, add the carrots and discard the mushrooms.
5. Season stew to taste and garnish stew with chopped parsley. Serve with buttered and toasted French bread.