Hericiums are a strange, striking mushroom, like an alien life form.
These like to come up in the late fall in the Midwest, when the leaves start to drop from the trees, but they’re choosy as to where they grow, and to me it seems like each mushroom eating the decomposing tree can have their own internal clock when it decides to fruit, similar to chicken of the woods. To find them you need to be in a place that has decomposing wood, fallen trees and putrid logs.
If you get lucky you might come across one, I never really go out and say I’m “hunting Hericiums” though, like you might hen of the woods, or chanterelles. Usually I just look around for blobs of white on black dead trees while I’m looking for other fall mushrooms, since these are at their best, unpredictable. There are a number of different species too, and you might even see these in high end grocery stores since they can be cultivated.
Hericium erinaceus is the one I most commonly see cultivated, the mushrooms pictured in this post are Hericium corralloides, or the coral-esque form, which I find more regularly. Whatever species you find, know that any wild species of Hericium is going to be far better than cultivated ones which typically taste bland, watery, and uninspiring.
If you’re lucky, your Hericriums will be relatively clean and you can just throw them into the pan with butter. If you’ve been out after a rain, you may have some work ahead of you. All of the little teeth and crevices can really hold debris, just like coral mushrooms. To clean especially dirty mushrooms, I like to swish pieces around in a sink of very cold water quickly, then remove them and put them on a clean towel to weep water. If you wash the mushrooms a couple times and you’re still getting grit in them, you can always pickle them and shake them around in the jar afterwords to remove excess grit, although that’s a bit of work to do for a dirty mushroom. Mushrooms are so plentiful during the fall season that I usually don’t mess with them unless I know they’re going to be easy to clean, since I might be dealing with large amounts of them at a time.
In the kitchen these are great. The flavor is slightly mushroomy, but with a hint of a shellfish quality Their flavor and texture have been compared to crab meat, and texture wise, that’s right on. I’ve seen people make Hericium crab cakes, mock fish stew, all sorts of things. They are sweet, mild, and delicious. Substituting them for clams or fish in a recipe is very fun to do.
I’ll be honest, these don’t often last long in my kitchen. But if you want to preserve them, one great way is in a conserve, something halfway between a pickle and a marinade. I’ve posted a recipe for that below-it’s my favorite.
Recipes I’ve made specifically for hericiums, or where they can be substituted