The Dryad’s saddle or Polyporus squamosus are a widely available mushroom with a beautiful pattern on the top of their cap that looks something like pheasant feathers, hence their other name “Pheasant Back” .
The first time I tried these, I didn’t know what to think. My coworker brought a large one in to identify and play with at the restaurant. It was big, tough, and strange; much more dense and hard than any chicken of the woods or similar polypore I had worked with. I cleaned and sliced up a big cap and sauteed it.
It was not good, way too tough to be of any use I thought, although it did have a nice, mild flavor. I relegated it to the inedible category of edible mushrooms, and forgot about it for a while.
I was missing out. It’s all about the stage at which the mushrooms are found. Too old and they’re only useful for broth. If you find them young though, they’re very good.
Some people say dryad saddles smell and taste of fresh cucumber, and I agree, along with some watermelon rind-a bit like comparing chanterelles to apricots.
These decompose trees like other polypores such as chicken of the woods or hen of the woods. From my experience, these grow almost exclusively on dead elms, so expect to find them on decaying logs, stumps, half dead and injured trees. They’ll start to fruit in the spring alongside morels, so you’ll often see them around each other. Look in deciduous hardwood forests for these first in the spring after heavy rains. They’ll continue to fruit throughout the year, but it’s more difficult to get them at a good eating stage from my experience after Spring when they seem to fruit heaviest.
I’ve heard of people eating it and not liking it, and saying it is inedible. I have also heard people praise it for being delicious. The confusing part is that both could be right, It just depends on what age you find the mushroom. You wouldn’t want to eat the stem of asparagus when it’s old and woody, although you could make soup with them. The dryad’s saddle is the same way.
When they’re young and soft, these are succulent little nuggets. When they get older, they are tough and inedible, similar to chicken of the woods, but unlike chickens, are absolutely, positively, un-chewable, no matter the age.
In the kitchen, the first thing I do with a dryad’s saddle is cut off the black stem (if present), then trim and scrape away the pores on the bottom side of the cap. The pores on the underside of the cap are a bit textural for me, so I remove them by scraping with the side of a paring knife. You don’t have to remove the pores from the mushroom, but I do when I serve it.
Another thing I suggest is to slice these very thin, as in near transparent. Don’t worry about them breaking up or disintegrating into a sauce, their firm texture makes them resilient, like shiitakes.
You really want to keep this moist while cooking, browning a little bit is ok, and will make them taste better, but heavy browning or sauteing can make them toughen and dry out. I like to cook thin slices in a covered pan with a bit of water, butter and salt added until the liquid evaporates, and the mushrooms brown, just a little.
How Do You Know If A Dryad’s Saddle Is Soft Enough To Eat?
First, you’re looking for very young mushrooms. They should be rich in a deep brown color and markings. Avoid specimens that look white or cream as these are typically older.
I have a little field test I give these to see if they’re going to cooperate in the kitchen. Here’s what I do: I take my fingernail or hunting knife and gently scrape the underside of the cap, if the pores are easily scraped off, It’s a nice eater. If the pores remain and seem stuck to the cap, I toss it or save it for soup broth.
From my experience, about 1 in 5 or so dryad’s saddle I see are young and tender. However, if you feel moved to take some older mushrooms home, they make a flavorful broth, which tastes eerily of cucumber or melon rind. If that sounds interesting, take a look at my recipe for dryad saddle ramen.
like some other mushrooms (golden chanterelles, hedgehogs) I advise against drying these to reconstitute and cook with since they’ll be hard and woody, but they can be dried and powdered for making stocks and soups. If you slice them thinly, they make excellent pickles with a nice texture. Take a look at my recipe for mushroom conserve as a guide, it works magic on these and they keep their interesting cucumber flavor.