I finally got to eat my first Gyromitra caroliniana, also known as the “Big Red”.
Where I live on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin we have a number of Gyromitra that I’ve eaten, well two species to be exact (Gyromitra korfii and Gyromitra Brunnea) and they’re ok. Gyromitra caroliniana is special in a number of ways though.
First, the mushrooms are very large. Gyromitra can grow to stupendous size, and these are some of the largest I’ve had. Secondly, the mushrooms are widely regarded as one of, if not the safest Gyromitra we know, so safe, that they can be cooked without par-blanching.
For the record, korfii and brunnea are probably ok without par-blanching too, but, for the time being, I still blanch mine, and, if you’re just starting out with these mushrooms I think you should too if it makes you more comfortable. If you’re an experienced Gyromitra-phagist, do what you prefer.
Boiling mushrooms before you cook them is not exactly an intuitive thing to to, its exactly the opposite of what I try to do with just about every other mushroom I cook. Par boiling/blanching mushrooms means that they’re going to be wet when they’re done, and wet mushrooms do not saute in fat very well—the folds of the mushroom trap water that will migrate out as they saute, spattering and sputtering and popping, and, you get the idea.
The spattering and sputtering are what gave me the idea for the crispy technique here. After the par-cooking, the mushrooms are pressed between towels to remove as much moisture as possible, then tossed in some seasoned flour that acts as a barrier between any residual water and the cooking oil in the pan. You may here a little crackle here and there, but it’s nothing compared to cooking wet mushrooms in a pan.
Cooked like that, they’re quite good, brown and crispy just like a mushroom should be. That being said, they’re not a morel, and next time I may cook them without blanching, which would undoubtedly have a richer flavor.
- 8 oz fresh Gyromitra mushrooms
- 3 qts water
- 2 oz unsalted butter or cooking oil
Seasoned flour (think of this as an example, you can use your favorite dredge)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon dried ramp leaves crumbled
- 1 tablespoon dried bergamot leaves crumbled
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Clean the Gyromitra well by trimming any clinging debris from the stems. Cut the mushrooms in half if they’re small and quarter them if they’re large. Diligently inspect the inner folds of the mushroom for pill bugs, spiders, centipedes, and all manner of creatures and evict them.
- Bring the water to a rolling boil, add the mushrooms, put a lid on the pot and cook for 10-15 minutes, depending on how many you’re cooking. Remove the mushrooms to drain, then put them between paper towels to cool, pressing them between towels to remove as much water as possible.
- Combine the ingredients for the flour dredge.
- Sprinkle the Gyromitra on both sides with salt, allow to sit for a minute or two.
- Meanwhile, heat the butter or oil in a wide pan.
- Toss the mushrooms in the flour dredge, tap off the excess, and add them to the pan with the oil.
- Cook the mushrooms until crisp and golden on both sides, then serve, sprinkled with some finishing salt if you want. Lemon wedges can be nice too.
Gyromitra mushrooms have been consumed by people around the world as a traditional food, for a very long time, particularly in Scandinavia and Europe. They’re also still sold canned across Europe, as well as dried as a commercial product and it’s important to note that the species most commonly consumed in those regions is one of the most potentially hazardous species (Gyromitra esculenta).
Modern field guides list these all of these mushrooms as inedible, poisonous, or even deadly, and while technically that could be true, it refers only to their raw state. The issue with Gyromitra is that certain species contain varying amounts of the compound MMH (Monomethylhydrazine). MMH is water and air-soluble, so par-boiling them is a common practice used around the world to make them edible. Certain species are known to have much less MMH than others, some in negligible enough amounts that the mushrooms can be cooked without par-boiling (G. caroliniana, korfii, montana).
It’s also important to note that all species of Morchella / morels are also toxic raw, although probably less so than Gyromitra. Guidebooks, while working with the best of intentions, often fall into the trap of parroting information passed down from older guide books, that perpetuates fungaphobic stereotypes and demonization of the mushrooms without having any updated research to cite. Before we disregard a traditional food, we should balance the information we have with ethnobotanical evidence of consumption.
That being said, I cannot accept any liability for improper cooking or serving of Gyromitra, so if you are not able to differentiate your local species with certainty, study them and enjoy them as the curious creations of nature they are, without eating them.