I used to think that hedgehog mushrooms were kind of a novelty here in Minnesota and the Midwest. That was until I harvested hedgehog mushrooms the size of dinner plates. They're a special variety called Hydnum albomagnum, or "big white hedgehog".
Different Hedgehog Mushroom Varieties
The majority of hedgehogs I've cooked were flown in from the Pacific Northwest via my friend George Weppler, an organic farmer who got his start selling to Jeremiah Tower at Chez Panisse. They're fine mushrooms, but are a different species than I pick (Hydnum umbillicatum from Oregon vs Hydnum repandum in the Midwest), and they're good, but things always taste better when you pick them yourself.
The Oregon hedghogs are less firm and structural, but make up for it (just like P.N.W Cantharellus formosus) in the large amounts that they fruit and ultra-low incidence of larvae. Like I said, In Minnesota, I might be lucky to pick a couple pounds of hedgehogs in an entire season, George used to send me 30 lbs for a single week from the West Coast.
A couple years ago, I was talking with George about the upcoming mushroom harvests, asking him to keep his eyes open for cauliflower mushrooms to send.
Giant Hedgehog Mushrooms
He told me about some hedgehogs that he'd been picking for personal use that were interesting as they were the size of dinner plates, a lot different than the species we typically would get from him. One thing that stuck in my mind was him saying enthusiastically: "Alan, these things are so big you could grill them!".
Something flipped a switch in my mind and I was reminded of a variant species known colloquially as the "Spreader" that I'd learned about somewhere along the line. After that, I forgot about the giant hedgehogs for a few years.
A couple years later, I was lucky enough to get invited to hunt black trumpet mushrooms in Northern Minnesota at a place so thick with trumpets on some years I come with a scissors, and leave the knife at home.
My friend mentioned something about large hedgehogs around the peripheries of the trumpet patch one year, but we hadn't seen any the other time I'd gone with him. I didn't put two and two together until I finally saw them for myself last year.
These weren't large hedgehogs, they were gigantic, bigger than any hedgehogs I'd ever seen, hell, I'd wager they were almost bigger than most of the wild mushrooms I've picked, not including the large polypores like Chicken and Hen of the Woods and the occasional freak bolete or lobster.
The hedgehogs weren't freaks or anomalies though, they were exactly what they were supposed to be. They were all white, with white flesh: much different from the typical brown capped variety I usually see.
Technically, I'm guessing these are a variation of Hydum albomagnum, or something closely related, since they're known to be much larger, and have a lighter color.
Here and there around the trumpet patch we ran into more giant hedgehogs, and the three of us starting running out of room in our 50lb onion bags: the best sort of mushroom hunting problem to have.
Mushrooms so big you can grill them
Thinking of George, I went outside, lit some logs on fire and waited for embers to form. If the mushrooms wouldn't fit in the fridge raw, they'd fit after cooking. I grilled all of the mushrooms whole slowly over the logs, which cooks and smokes them at the same time.
After the mushrooms were grilled, I marinated them in jars and they fit in the fridge easily, a little vinegar in the marinade ensured they'd be good for weeks to come, as well as pickling and drying some for the long haul. The recipe below is a simple grilled mushroom that will keep in the fridge for a few days. They're great on salads.
The wood smoke from the grill is aggressive, which means the mushrooms taste smoked. If you don't like smoked food, you can always grill over charcoal or roast the mushrooms whole in an oven.
Grilled Hedgehog Mushrooms
- 1 Grill
- 1 Long tongs
- 2 lb large mushrooms such as hedgehogs or hen of the woods
- 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 Tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, or a combination
- 1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or another oil like walnut oil
- Build a wood fire and make a good bed of coals.
- Rub the mushrooms all over with the cooking oil by hand. Grill them over the coals until wilted and hot throughout, turning occasionally until browned all over.
- Remove the mushrooms to a bowl to cool and cover the bowl with clingfilm.
- Cut the cooled mushrooms into thick slices and add them to the bowl back with their juice. Toss the with the oil and vinegar, season to taste with salt and pepper and reserve. Double check the seasoning and adjust for oil, salt, vinegar, and, if you like some extra fresh herbs.
- They're great warm or at room temperature on a salad, but are best made ahead of time so the mushrooms can absorb flavor from the oil and herbs.