Cauliflower mushrooms are one of the most delicious wild mushrooms you can hunt. They're a large and easy to identify, choice edible species, the only problem is finding them.
No matter if you live in The Pacific Northwest or South Carolina, one thing remains the same: these aren't a mushroom you'll find every day.
Unfortunately for me, these are extremely rare in the Midwest, and I've only heard of a handful of instances of foragers coming across them-twice in Wisconsin and once in Minnesota, to be exact. Thankfully I have friends who take me out when I travel.
A number of sparassis species grow in the United States: Sparassis crispa and Sparassis radicata on the west coast, and Sparassis spathulata and americana on the East Coast. I've eaten s. radicata, s. crispa and s. americana, and they're delicious and interchangeable in recipes. In Europe, they have Sparassis brevipes.
Quick ID Tips
- Mostly I see these growing with pine trees and pine stumps
- The fruiting bodies look like head of cauliflower with a color that can range from pure white to light brown.
- Just like hen of the woods, they'll only grow at the base of the tree, never from the trunk.
- They have a white spore print
All of these mushrooms can grow on both deciduous and coniferous trees, but I see the most cauliflower mushrooms being harvested growing with pines, where they typically grow over the roots of coniferous trees. Like their polypore cousins (with the exception of hens), these are also impossible to grow, at least at the time of this writing.
Like their cousins, the hen of the woods and chicken of the woods, cauliflower mushrooms are saprobic parasites of trees that cause a brown rot in the host, so looking for woods with damaged trees or stumps can be a good bet. One of my friends swears by Scots pine.
If they don't grow near you, the good thing is that these are sold commercially. West Coast Wild Foods sends me some occasionally, and you can order large or small amounts during Autumn.
First you'll want to clean the mushrooms. It can be easy, or difficult depending on how they grow. As cauliflower fungus are kind of loose and open, it's harder for debris to get stuck inside them, but you will want to check them over for pine needles and the occasional insect.
Here's what I do: tear the mushroom into bite-sized pieces the size of cauliflower florets, swish them in a big bowl of cold water if needed, then put them, laid out on paper towels to dry.
Once the mushrooms are dry, put them into a zip-top bag with a fresh paper towel and refrigerate them. Fresh and clean, they'll last for 4-5 days or longer in the fridge-less if they contain bugs.
Worms and insects
Even very young, perfect mushrooms often have insect larvae that resemble maggots inside them, and the longer they stay in the fridge, the more the bugs will eat and grow in size.
To check for bugs, inspect the base of the mushroom where it attaches to the ground for holes, and cut away any brown or discolored portions with visible tunneling before bringing them home.
These are a fleshy fungi with a unique shape and texture some people will call "noodly". Since they have a similar texture to al dente egg noodles, one of my favorite things is to mix them with small pasta. Farfalle is one of the best. Some people use them like a low-carb pasta.
For a simple side dish, heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat with a little olive oil, then add the mushrooms cook for a bit until they release their water, then add kosher salt and pepper and cook until they're golden brown. Simple can be ok.
If it's your first time eating, make sure to taste a small amount to make sure you don't have an allergy, as with eating any new mushroom.
Lots of moisture
These mushrooms contain a lot of water. Quick-cooking or dry-sauteing can work. If you stir-fry them or cook too fast, you can end of with a puddle of water on your plate-just ask the chef who lost to me in a T.V. competition 🙂
Over the years I've made some awesome stuff with these mushrooms. Here's a few of my favorite cauliflower mushroom recipes.
While they're one of the ultimate soup mushrooms, I'd try my cauliflower steaks if it's your first time, or if you need a new recipe. Simple ingredients are the best.
Cauliflower Mushroom Steaks
This is a great way to cook these. Just like hen of the woods, you can cook big chunks of these like a piece of meat. There's a little technique involved (a double-cooking process) but it's easy, and the results will blow you away.
Cauliflower Mushrooms with Farfalle
Mushrooms with a white wine sauce, a good amount of butter and herbs mixed with a pasta of a similar shape for a contrast in texture. This is a versatile dish you can tweak with whatever you have around.
Cauliflower Mushroom and Cabbage Gratin
A reader favorite. Sparassis cooked and mixed with tender cabbage, baked with cheese and topped with breadcrumbs and a little butter for an easy side dish or vegetarian entrée. Just add a green salad and fresh ground black pepper.
White Risotto with Cauliflower Mushroom Ragu
A simple Italian-style dish of simple white risotto, topped with a juicy mushroom ragu. You can substitute a lot of different mushrooms here, too. This is a good side dish or vegetarian entrée.
Steamed Cauliflower Mushrooms with Ponzu
Inspired by Japanese cooking. Since these mushrooms are delicate, steaming them is another good option to consider, especially if you're tired of butter, cream and cheese.
Tear the mushrooms into small pieces dipped in a zippy ponzu sauce is the perfect thing for when you don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen and want something light and fresh.
35 Essential Wild Mushrooms Every Forager Should Know
Mushroom Expert: Genus Sparassis
Thank you for sharing the recipe! I'm in central Pennsylvania, and am blessed with the fact that these grow like wildfire on our property. I never have a problem filling multiple laundry baskets full.
I recently discovered your blog and I'm loving it! You're inspiring me to buy and use all those exotic mushrooms I see at the farmer's market...
found one west of the Twin cities growing next to a hen. It wasn't a hen tho, wanted to pick it a couple days later when I realized what it was, but too old. recipe looks great.
Sparassis. Queen of the forest. A one-mushroom party. Big, easy to identify, delicious. What s not to love?
I've made this dish twice now with some cauliflowers I found while hiking- it's so delicious! Thank you for the hard work you do.
I did want to let you know that you left the stock out of the recipe steps, I figured it went in with the cabbage, and that worked great.
Hey Megan, thanks for pointing that out. I'm just one human, and here and there I overlook the occasional thing. My line cooks point out stuff all the time in the house recipe book, I'm constantly re-writing recipes, adjusting things, etc.
My husband and I found two of these amazing mushrooms while hunting here in WA state a couple nights ago. Just assembled the ingredients to make your recipe to go along with a smoked venison roast. I added some chanterelle's to it! I snuck a taste before baking mmm, mmm good! I can't wait to eat it. Thank you for sharing your recipe! This will be our first experience with the cauliflower mushroom.
They're a wonderful mushroom, enjoy.
One of th guys at our Arcata, CA farmers market was selling them this weekend...yum.
I happened to have all the ingredients needed for this dish and made it as written. I've cooked cauliflower mushro(om before and did not like the texture. Your recipe is genius because the texture of the cabbage and mushroom (and the flavor) blended well.
Not the prettiest dish ever but we really enjoyed. Thanks for posting!
Thanks so much, you're lucky to have cauliflower mushrooms in your area, I'd gladly trade some species to be able to pick them near me instead of getting them once in a while from Oregon.
I found one of these in my yard near Mt Hood Oregon. It was bigger than my head and very delicious. It's been several years and I keep checking that same spot in hope for another.
We havefound only one here in the mountains of Arizona. Delicious! So i bought a bag of dehydrated Sprassis from Amazon. They are VERY clean and I'm hoping no chemicals were used in the process. How would you suggest using them? They tend to get floppy when soaked, unlike morels. Thank you for any advice.
Thank you for your recipe, it gave me confidence to cook sporassis which I found in Hudson valley.
I was interested to make it a vegan recipe. The first time I sauteed it by itself, and felt that it could use more flavor. So, I added sliced garlic, black pepper, thyme and a tiny dribble of soy sauce, which enhanced the flavor.
Lynette N. Melton
Where can I find the cauliflower gratin recipe, please?
https://foragerchef.com/cauliflower-mushroom-cabbage-gratin/ Or enter the words "cauliflower mushroom gratin" into the search bar of this website.
Thank you for the recipe!
Good recipe, i am in the luck of having good spot in the forest and have right now 2 buckets of cleaned cauliflower ,,,, some to cook some to preserve ( I am picking mushrooms as this is what we do in my family)
Found a 10 pounder yesterday near the base of an enormous Doug Fir stump in the N oregon Cascades. God Bless Oregon! My new spot is very remote. I'll be returning next year for another. BTW Huge fir stumps burnt from a forest fire quite some years bck. Fully mature forest now with insanely healthy Chanterelles
oh yeah.....I'm going to attempt to slice it like bread,deep fry them and make sandwiches. Hope it works, I've got a lot of eating to do!
I’ve made tempura, cutting into bite-sized pieces first. The curly shape of the mushroom holds the batter well and they fry nicely. I also like the pun of crispy crispa (although I live in the PNW so I’m probably cooking radicata lol)
PS goes great with a garlic aioli
They're a great mushroom.
I found 2 f these on my land in s/w mich.this year...very interesting mushroom...I consider myself very lucky having them.in my woods
You are lucky indeed.
How would you store this mushroom overnight? Like all others? (Paper bag in the fridge)
Overnight, for one night, a paper bag is fine. Home refrigerators regulate humidity though, so if it will be in the fridge for more than 24 hours, you will want to put it in a large zip-loc or similar bag with a moist paper towel. Typically, to save space, I clean most mushrooms immediately and then store them in big 1 or 2 gallon zip locs, with the seal slightly open to allow them to respire. Think of the plastic like it's a terrarium, it will hold in moisture and prevent the mushrooms from drying out in the fridge. Commercial fridges are different in that they're much larger. They will still dry things out, but typically it's at a much slower pace.
My husband found a large one on some property we just purchased in the midlands of South Carolina. After researching exactly what it was, we picked it tonight on our trip out there, and brought it home and cleaned it. We are planning to try it out tomorrow!
I found 6 today some are big as my head , want to try the first one to see if I like it before picking the other ones.