I took a few hours this week specifically to hunt some chicken of the woods, and I got skunked, hard. June can be kind of a dead zone in the Midwest for mushrooms until the chanterelles start, you’ll see a few early chickens, but nothing like the amounts that start in the mid to late summer.
If any of you Midwesterners have been outside lately though, you know there’s one thing that’s out, and they’re legion: the ol’crown-tipped coral (Artomyces pyxidatus) seeming to pop up on every downed log from Duluth to Iowa City. So, frustrated at the thought of my hunt being a bust, I picked some.
Giving Crown-Tipped Corals Soms Love
It’s not that I don’t like crown corals, I don’t mind them, I just like chicken of the woods more. Chicken of the woods isn’t as common, and, humans want what they can’t have.
Chicken-less, but rich with a fat bag of corals, I cleaned a few, and wilted them in a pan, just to remind myself of how they cook up. I was reminded how much they wilt down quickly: after a minute or two, the fist-sized clumps I put in a pan were nearly flat.
I dwelled on their flat form for a bit, there was something I’d been missing. Instead of their loss of volume being a downside to cooking them in a pan, what if it could be a good thing, a way to get a different textural effect from a mushroom? Maybe they *wanted* to be flat as a pancake.
I tossed some clusters in flour, then baked them drizzled with lard on a sheet tray, low and slow, until the water had evaporated and the flour had crisped them. Some of the corals that overlapped had stuck together. They emerged from the oven a sort of alien natural form, like an edible fossil.
They’re a one of a kind garnish. The lacy, wavy texture, and how they stuck together reminded me of another thing too, the way florentine cookies develop a lacy pattern from having a fat-heavy dough that separates in the oven as they cook, or the pattern that comes from baking good parmesan cheese into tuiles for garnishing salads.
I tossed a little grated parmesan in with another batch, formed them into little mounds and baked away. After they cooled, they were firm as a cracker, firm enough to use as a vehicle for all the dips, spreads, cheese or, even better: broken up in chunks and tossed in a salad as super cool mushroom croutons. Mycophagy is fun.
If you have crown tipped corals in your area, here’s a couple recipes you can try. The croutons are more of a crunchy mushroom garnish, while the crackers could be used broken up as a garnish, a vehicle for canapes, or, anywhere you’d use a cracker. The best part is they’re a snap to make, and will stay crisp at room temperature for a while until you need them. Cooking them, is almost easier than finding them.
Crown Tipped Coral Parmesan Crackers
- 4 oz crown tipped coral clusters trimmed of bark and picked over for debris and insects
- Kosher salt a pinch
- 1.5 oz or about 3 tablespoons grated high quality parmesan such as a locally made variety, grana padano, or parm reggiano
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour or equivalent gluten free flour, starch, etc
- Flavorless cooking oil as needed (a spray bottle is perfect)
- Preheat the oven to 325. Toss the coral mushrooms, parmesan, pinch of salt and flour together in a mixing bowl, then make small mounds roughly the size of a 1/4 cup on a baking sheet.
- Discard any remaining flour at the bottom of the bowl. Flatten out the mounds lightly, then spray or drizzle lightly with oil and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the mushrooms have wilted and the cheese and flour are very crisp.
- Flip the cakes occasionally about half way through, pressing down on any raised parts to ensure even crispness. The cheese should be golden, and the crackers evenly crisp, but not burnt.
- Remove the crackers to a cooling rack or towel to weep any excess oil, then store in a container with a tight-fitting lid at room temperature for up to two days, or refrigerate and toast slightly to re-crisp, and then cool, before eating.
Crown-tipped coral croutons
- For croutons without cheese, take clusters of coral mushrooms, toss them with flour, oil them lightly and bake per above until crisp.
Crown Tipped Coral Mushroom Croutons
- Crown tipped coral clusters, trimmed of bark and picked over for debris and insects
- Cooking oil, as needed, a small amount, preferably in a spray bottle
- Kosher salt, to taste
- All purpose flour, a small amount, just enough to coat the mushrooms
Toss the coral mushroom clusters with a few good pinches of flour, toss to coat, discard the excess and lay out on a baking sheet. Spray or drizzle the mushrooms lighlty with oil and bake for 30 minutes at 325 or until the mushrooms are completely wilted, flat and crisp, then remove from the oven and cool. Store at room temperature in a sealed container for up to 2 days.