One of the most underrated mushrooms, the Dryad's saddle (Cerioporus squamosus, formerly known as Polyporus squamosus) is an edible mushroom with a pattern on the top of the cap that resembles pheasant feathers, hence the common name pheasant back. Pheasant tail mushrooms and saddle mushroom are two other common names.
Some people don't care for the taste, but these mushrooms make a good consolation prize when morels are scarce. And, although they're not worth as much as morels they're often sold to restaurants. The market price of pheasant backs is $10-20 / lb depending on quality.
Pheasant Back Mushroom Identification
Identifying a pheasant back mushroom is easy. These are polypore mushrooms like chicken of the woods and hen of the woods, with honeycomb-shaped pores under the cap instead of gills.
The cap is covered in thin, brown scales. They can grow to be quite large, and caps 12 inches across are common. Very young mushrooms will resemble wine corks.
Pheasant Back Mushroom Look Alikes
The most common look alike is The Train-Wrecker (Neolentinus lepideus), but some people mention hawks wing mushrooms (Sarcodon imbricatus) as well. Both look alikes are edible, but not as good as C. squamosus.
Very young dryad saddles showing the speckled, feather-like pattern on the cap.
What do Pheasant Back Mushrooms Taste Like?
Some say dryad saddle mushrooms smell and taste like fresh cucumber, some say watermelon rind. The aroma of the dryad saddle, along with other mushrooms like Clitopilus prunulus, is known as "farinaceous" referring to an odor of grain. I don't understand the reference, but it's useful if you run across it in a field guide or mushroom book.
Note the black stem, which may or may not be present.
Where to Find Pheasant Back Mushrooms
These are one of the most common wild Spring mushrooms, appearing in April or early May before morels. They're only found east of the Rockies.
These are a parasite of dead and dying trees, causing a white rot like other polypores. They grow on decaying logs, stumps, injured and dead hardwood trees. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, I usually find the mushrooms growing on box elder trees and elm trees.
Look in deciduous hardwood forests for these in the spring after heavy rains. They'll continue to fruit throughout the year, but it's more difficult to get them young and tender after Spring when they fruit the heaviest.
Harvesting Pheasant Back Mushrooms
Cut the mushrooms from the tree with a sturdy mushroom knife. You can discard the woody stem or trim them later. The mushrooms are usually very clean, but can be rinsed with cool water if necessary.
Store fresh pheasant backs in a large zip-top bag in the refrigerator with a paper towel to absorb moisture. They'll last for a week.
The most important thing is finding young mushrooms as older mushrooms are too tough to eat. They should have a deep brown color and markings. Avoid mushrooms that look white or cream which are old and tough.
Knowing when the mushrooms are at the best stage to eat is confusing as the mushrooms grow very fast, and the pores on the underside of the mushroom change as they mature.
The young mushrooms you want have tight pores. Older mushrooms will have open, honeycomb-shaped pores. The pictures below illustrate the differences.
To check if a mushroom is tender I use what I call the scrape test. Take a fingernail or hunting knife and gently scrape the underside of the cap, if the pores are easily scraped off it's tender. If the pores seem stuck to the cap, toss it or save for mushroom stock.
Cooking Pheasant Back Mushrooms
How do you cook a dryad saddle? That depends on how old the mushroom is. You wouldn't eat asparagus when it's old and woody, but you could make soup with them. The dryad's saddle is the same.
Young dryad saddles are so soft you could slice them without using the mandoline.
The first thing I do is cut off the black stem and scrape away the pores on the underside of the cap with a paring knife. You don't have to remove the pores if the mushrooms are very young. Here's some tips for preparing pheasant back mushrooms.
- Choose young, small mushrooms.
- Inspect the pores, they should be tight and compressed.
- Scratch the pores with a fingernail-they should come off easily.
- Slice the mushrooms as thin as possible, preferably using a mandoline slicer like the Benriner model. Very young mushrooms can be sliced with a knife.
After they're thinly sliced, they can be cooked like any other mushroom. I like to cook thin slices of mushroom in a pan with butter, salt and a splash of wine or stock until the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms start to brown a little.
Pheasant back mushrooms can be eaten raw, but it's best to sample them in very small amounts. They taste better cooked anyway.
Preserving Pheasant Back Mushrooms
The mushrooms can be dried, but won't get tender after cooking. Older mushrooms can be dried or powdered for making stocks and soups.
To dry pheasant backs, cut them into thin slices and dehydrate at 145 F (high) until brittle, about 24 hours. Store the dried mushrooms in a mason jar. If you slice them thinly, they make excellent pickles with a nice texture.
You can freeze pheasant back mushrooms by quickly cooking them in a little butter and salt until wilted then freezing in zip loc bag. Vacuum sealed, frozen mushrooms will last the longest-about 6 months.
Pheasant Back Mushroom Recipes
These can be cooked like any other mushroom but the recipes below are good places to start.
White Wine Pheasant Backs
Pheasant back mushrooms simmered with garlic, wine and herbs are a reader favorite.
Basic Dryad Saddle / Pheasant Back Broth
A simple broth you can make with tough parts or woody trim. Use it to make ramen or soup.
Dryad Saddle Ramen
A delicious bowl of mushroom broth and dryad saddles. Add fresh wild vegetables for a great Spring entree.
Dryad Saddle Pickles
Tart, spicy mushroom pickles with dill and jalapeno. Add them to soup and sandwiches. You can also use my Wild Mushroom Conserve (Pickled Mushrooms).
Pheasant Back Fermented Shoyu
An advanced recipe, this is a fermented soy sauce substitute made with koji rice.
I tried my first Dryad Saddle this spring, Alan, for the same reasons as you, and had a very similar experience... I wondered how those people on the forums could possibly say that these are edible! I guess I will have to give them another try next year... or perhaps make the broth that you mention in another article. Thanks for opening my eyes to the possibilities.
Dan, yeah I read a lot about people saying they eat these regularly. The past year, I would wager I saw at least 50 dryad saddles. Out of those fifty, I would say about 50% were maggot infested, and 45% were great looking, but absolutely inedible when cooked, unless used for stock. Hunting mushrooms for the point of stock is not something we're shooting for though, it basically ends up being a consolation prize in lieu of morels, and something I can play with at work. The edible dryad saddles are only the most puny of budding nubs, and although they ARE very very good, the chance of finding them from my experience is quite rare. They are an interesting and beautiful permutation of nature though, and I like to see them, even if all I give them is a glance in passing. Cheers. Alan.
I wondered if you had a specific recipe for these. I have an elm stump near my home that produces about two pounds of fresh saddles every couple weeks. I love the texture of the young ones and slice them about 1/4 inch by an inch and then cook up the whole batch in butter and garlic. It leaches about two cups of water out and then we have a nice base for rice dishes.
What would be your recipe for pickling them?
Hi Jim, as long as the dryad's saddles are young, you could use any number of the pickle recipes I've posted here. The Chicken of the woods pickle would work just fine.
Hi! Just have to say, I love your site.
I find an abundance of pheasant back here in Michigan and decided to try something different with some of the young ones this most recent harvest.
I started playing with strawberries, rhubarb and the dryads saddle. Added a bit of wild violet syrup and let it summer. I am no chef, but I love to experiment and my hubs said this is amazing on ice cream. Who'd have thunk it! ????
Wow, that's probably the most creative use of pheasant backs I've heard of!
You had me at maggots????. I just found a large pheasant back on my own tree. I know it hasn’t been there long but it’s very large. I’m scared.
As long as it's young you have nothing to fear. They grow quickly though.
Besides, these are vegan maggots.
Spent the day fishing and walking though the woods sat. and found two very nice dryads on a dead elm got them home and battered them egg and good old Andy's fried them right behind the potatoes and they were outstanding eating, good as any thing else out there.
hope you find them
That's my kinda day!!!!
We made cream of mushroom soup with these and it was delightful
Sounds awesome! I love these little guys when I can find them fresh and young.
Thanks for the tips! I cooked mine in some white wine vinegar and butter. Tastes a lot like pickles. Very pleasant.
I have them growing on a tree in my back yard, so Spring and fall (and for some reason, right now) I just go cut them when they are about 3 days old and slice them an sprinkle with olive oil, sea salt and ground pepper and bake on a cookie sheet for about 15- 20 mins at 350 or 375 until golden and slightly crispy on outside. Very yummy!
Hi Anna! I see these fruit much more heavily in the spring, but they are still coming up. (Just found some tiny buttons today along with about 10lbs of chanterelles, boletes, and hedgehogs. Funny how they keep coming! Yeah when young they are great to eat.
10 pounds of WHAT?!?
That does it... as soon as I find out what you drive, I'm attaching a GPS transmitter, Alan.
Yep 10lbs of shrooms, pretty good for 3 or so hours, but sadly they will be sold to pay for my hospital bills since I don't have insurance-I'll be about 1/10 of the way there with this. And yes, The chanterelle honey holes have started to fruit, they were very slow at first though. The slow growth seems to be a blessing, the chanterelles seem to be of exceptional quality more so than I remember, with less bugs. The hedgehogs as always are also even more resilient to the bugs than chanterelles, love those guys, not a single bug hole in any. The boletes are really starting to come up, but sadly my porcini spots are silent, not even a squeek of a single b. edulis, b aureus, or b. barrowsii. Many many leather veiled boletes, though. so fun how I haven't found a single bug hole in any one of them, their thick veil is like a maggot deterring force-field. Ciao.
There's a lot of talk about not drinking alcohol after eating wild mushrooms... apparently you don't want to do it with some. I usually drink wine with morels with no issue. Coprine is one of several substances in mushrooms: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coprine - Do you know if Dryads have this or another substance that wouldn't mix well with alcohol?
The only mushrooms I know of you need to avoid alcohol with are those that are in the coprinus family, which may sound familiar as you mention the substance "coprine". These are mushrooms that are easy to identify, the shaggy mane is one of them. Others can be eaten with caution, and I make black pasta from them after they deliquesce and turn black. I would be cautious about drinking alcohol with those species. Dryad's saddle though? Your fine, I've never had any problems with those.
Shaggymanes (Coprinus comatus) do not contain coprine. Coprinopsis atramentarius, however, does. The two do not look at all alike, but they do both autolyse readily.
I think what you’re talking about is sometimes referred to as inky caps, which some refer to as tipplers bane. They contain a substance that is close to prescription Anabuse which is used to stop people from drinking, it makes you sick when you consume alcohol.
AKA Coprinopsis atramentaria
I enjoy pheasant backs and look forward to finding them in the spring. Today was the first day I found some and we are cooking them up for supper. Look out for their cousin polyporus alveolaris. It looks very similar but is tough. I feel like people who have had a bad experience with pheasant backs were actually trying to eat their leathery cousin. I like them fried with butter, salt and pepper and served on toast with a cup of tea. I keep them if I can easily tear them and if they are springy like the muscle between your thumb and forefinger. They also smell like watermelon rind, which I guess also smells like cucumber.
I just found a couple of little tiny buttons this morning while morel hunting. Sliced very thinly, simmered in water with butter for about five minutes, drizzled with lemon juice and a light grind of black pepper, and I couldn't stop eating them! The texture was lightly crunchy. The lemon juice worked very well with the "cucumber" taste.
I Just found several dryad saddles (hopefully) ranging from 7-14" in and around my elm stump. I'm usually too terrified to eat my backyard mushrooms which i've had a plethora of over the years as i've lost a lot of trees, but it didn't take much research in order to find out that in MN these seem to have no deadly lookalikes so i cut them and brought them in. Re alan's instructions i assigned the larger ones to the stock pot and gave smaller ones which past the scrape test my usual portabella treatment: a quick, but thorough rinse then sauteed them in a mixture of soy sauce, butter, and olive oil, adding a little black (brewed) coffee for extra flavor after the soy sauce had cooked down. they were far better than most portabella's and had a lovely only slightly chewy texture. For the broth i used what i had: garlic, several huge dryad saddle (hopefully that's what they were), some beet tops, again some soy sauce, (sorry but i'm a big fan of the next often maligned ingredient) a sprinkle of MSG, a few chopped of green beans, and again the black coffee. simmered for maybe 3/4 of an hour and it's absolutely the nectar of the gods. i didn't do any gill scraping (except as a test) and the sauteed batch didn't exude a lot of moisture (practically none). still sort of waiting to die but they were nearly worth it!
Does anyone know why even the huge one's weren't tough? i realized too late they too could have been sauteed. is that weather related or could it be that i bought them in and cooked them immediately. At any rate i'm hoping for a second 'crop'.
Hi Tallulah, glad you found some nice dryad saddles. You don't have to refer to Alan, I am the only person here, this website is not run by a group of people, just me. Never seen a large dryad saddle that wasn't tough. Glad you liked the broth they made, they can be harvested throughout the year, but I haven't run into any I've wanted to take home so far. Happy hunting. A
Alan, i was raised (in the 40s and 50s) with a near hysteria regarding mushroom poisoning, Back then people only trusted those nasty things in a can. yet nowadays people are combing the woods with seemingly little concern. I've spoken with foragers selling mushrooms at local markets who are strictly self-educated and apparently unregulated. Are deadly mushrooms rare or nearly nonexistent in MN? Are there any guidelines a prudent backyard mushroom forager in Minneapolis should be aware of? Thanks for any information you can give me, I've passed up too many interesting, possibly tasty, specimens and don't want to miss any more.
Tallulah, I completely understand where you're coming from, and for a long time I'm pretty sure my grandmother thought I was trying to kill or poison our entire family. There are deadly mushrooms in MN, but mostly the people who pick the nasty ones are Asian immigrants. I feel a bit weird giving guidelines, but it has become part of the monster that is this website. Here is what I tell people who would like to start picking mushrooms: Don't pick amanitas. Don't pick any mushrooms that are pure white, with white gills, cap and stem. Don't pick mushrooms that are slimy or look decomposed. Don't pick any small, tiny brown mushrooms. Don't pick mushrooms with a webby veil. Always double check your findings with multiple field guides, until you can tell instantly what the mushroom is without any doubt. That what comes to me off of the top of my head. Happy hunting. A
Very helpful, Thanks so much. Do you think Asian immigrants are somehow less effected by mushrooms which would make European Americans ill or worse, or are they simply uninformed.
From what I understand, there is an Asian mushroom that looks very similar to one of our most poisonous mushrooms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanita_phalloides) .
There are also some very dangerous folk believe for determining toxicity. I recently ran into a Ukrainian man who was telling me that if you boil the mushrooms with an onion, that a poisonous mushroom would turn black (or something like that, anyway). Wikipedia lists some of those folk myths that can get you killed or sick: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mushroom_poisoning#Folk_traditions
The biggest thing is to get to KNOW the mushroom that you are going to eat in the same way that you KNOW a dandelion or daisy.
Hi Alan, I ran into you blog when I googled, "cooking Dryad's Saddle." I'm a long time forager and mushroom hunter. I've given a few walk-talks locally, and here's what I tell people who want to start hunting mushrooms (surprisingly, most who come to my walks don't want to hunt themselves): join a mushroom club! Every state has one, or two; clubs registered with NAMA (http://www.namyco.org/clubs.php) are led by amateur mycologists who have many, many years of experience. Going on weekly forays in season, seeing, touching, and smelling the mushrooms in all their glory, and listening to experienced mushroomers talk about them is the best, and safest way to learn.
Michigan State University has a great 1-day course for identifying mushrooms that are distinct and not easily confused with poisonous shrooms.
Dryad's saddles grow constantly in a woodpile near my house. My experience is that even the big ones can be tender if harvested when young. Only the base of them gets too tough to eat.
I hear ya on your funny “still waiting to die” remark. I just battered and fried a big pan of pheasant backs, now I’m hoping I didn’t eat its cousin. But gosh they were delectable
Francine, there's no poisonous cousin to pheasant backs. They're one of the most unmistakeable mushrooms I know, plus there just aren't any look a likes really.
As a mushroom expert, I often use Polyporus squamosus in our kitchen. I never removed it's pores and if any amount left, (because, I have collected more than I needed) I dried it. The dried, powdered mushroom became a part of my wild mushroom mix (I use it for cooking soups, creamy sauces etc.)
Creative! I remove the pores because I find the mushrooms are more pleasing to eat that way, it also serves as an indication of whether the dryad saddle is too tough to eat.
I collected a few today but only one seemed tender enough to eat once I cut it up. Cooked for ~15 minutes in garlic butter and a little water and came out absolutely delicious!! Definitely don't try to eat if they are tough, the one that I ended up cooking hadn't "fanned out yet" (was still in a circular shape).
Hello, I couldn't help but read your experience with dryad saddles. I personally like the borderline tender ones fried up in a bit of butter until they resemble French fries. They even taste like them if you do it right.
I fried one up with tofu, rice, some wild greens, and curry sauce. The cap was perfect, kind of sweet-smelling with a somewhat nutty flavour. But I made the mistake of including the stem, which was tasty but nearly unchewable.
Amazing! Thank you for your information. We just tried them for the first time tonight with in a pasta white sauce. They were amazing and paired with parmesan cheese nicely.
Thanks, glad you liked them.
Thank you Alan for sharing your experience about when they are good eating. You explained it perfectly and saved me a lot of trial and error. Love your blog and hope you are well!
I truly enjoy reading about everyones experiences with the Pheasant Backs. Came across a large quantity of them while looking for morels. Looking forward to trying some of the cooking ideas I've read about. Is there a way to freeze these mushrooms for later eating?
This is the first time i have used these I found a bunch a few weeks ago and picked about 7or 8 off the tree (that had around 15 to 20 on the tree) large and small caps the pours were quite large and deep even on the smaller caps ...
2 were very tough but the rest were soft and let out water when i cut all the pours off....
The majority of them had the beetle larve in them but i found that if you cut the mushrooms in to smaller chunks and take the pours off then soak them in a bowl of water the larve wil come out on their own and sink to the bottom of the bowl while the mushrooms stay floating on the top
and then you than squeeze the mushrooms and the water and any other larve will come out and if your haveing a problem bug just soak the mushroom again it acts like a sponge and repeat ....
I cut them thinish so i can dehydrate them for soup stock.. Couldent belive how much they smell like cucumbers
The cucumber smell is intense, isn't it!
Great article- love all the tips- pick when pores are small, cook with liquid, good for pickling. I found a young one today. I have to admit, I don't like the smell. To me it's a mix of cucumbers and rubber gloves. But pickling and keeping in the back of fridge until the memory of that smell goes away sounds like a plan. I didn't like chicken of the woods either until I learned to pickle older ones to break down the chitin. Then I found a really young one just before last winter- it was incredibly tender and the flavor was fantastic. Thanks for sharing your expertise.
Glad I could help.
Excellent guide, thank you. Just enjoyed some awesome pheasant back and wild green onion stir fry following your prep guide! Had some larger pheasants but scraping the pores off and then thinly slicing produced delicious and tender results!
Thank you so much for the information and guidance. Hubby hit a pheasant back mother-load yesterday and this page was perfect. I used the larger ones as stock base and the younger ones as content did a beef pho/hot pot. I am the most popular family member just now. 🙂
I am so glad that your article helped me crack the code on this very abundant shroom in my woods! Just made a cream of mushroom soup with the ones I found today, I am going to go forbthevyoung ones that aren't displaying pores from now on. The one exceptional I would point out on avoiding all white shrooms is lions mane, which I find here in the fall. They look like little cauliflowers.
Sylvia J Bennett
I think these are the same things we call Bracket Mushrooms. I have never tried eating them but there is a fellow near us that takes them dries them out a bit, uses a wood burner to put a design in, shellacs them (actually polyurethane) and sells them at the farmer's market. They look awesome. The bigger and older the better
Hi Sylvia, that sounds likely. I worked with a company that would dry the stems out and sand them, and they made an excellent balsa wood substitute. Beautiful after curing and oiling a bit.
I have discovered how to eat even the most rubbery Pheasant's back. Simply chop it up and throw it in your blender with a little water, stock, broth, white wine or whatever flavorful liquid. Start with a small amount and add more as needed, just enough to puree your mushrooms. Next add your favorite mix of flours, again start slowly, you need just enough to get a thick batter. Add some salt and seasonings appropriate to the meal you are having (this makes a great falafel). You can deep fry or pan fry these and they will be tender and moist or add a little oil to your batter and bake your patties in the oven. I discovered this trick because I thought the rubbery texture would create a nice vegan pepperoni and I was actually disappointed because the chewy tough bite was gone and this happened to all the mushrooms I've tried this with so it works for any tough woody, rubbery mushrooms.
I came here to see if I should let the one I found I my backyard this morning grow but I now plan to harvest it after posting this.
Ish, that's a fantastic idea. I'll try to remember to grab some older ones next time I see them. Thank you!
G. L. B.
This was extremely helpful! I found a dryad’s saddle, brought it home, debugged it (should have been a clue), cut it very thin, and gently fried it with butter, olive oil, garlic, and onions. Smelled delicious but was chewy and disgusting. Now I’ll know how to spot an old one! Thanks!
Live and learn with these. You'll get a good one next time!
Dr. Tarek Fakhuri
A very informative piece on a variety of mushroom that is so often overlooked!
We’re all familiar with the grocery store staple, the button mushroom. And those who forage for mushrooms in the wild will know about morels and maybe even reishi mushrooms but this is the one people should be talking about.
Thank you for shedding light on it!
Trisha's Tenacious Table
Good info! Last year I took the ones too touch and chopped them into small pieces, dehydrated them and then ground them to a powder, mixed salt in and made my own homemade mushroom salt!
I cut the stems off and only eat/keep what I can break in half easily in my hands. If you bend it and it doesn't break its too old. Fried in salt and butter.
If the pheasant back is soft and flexible and the underside is smooth with doesn’t have dimples yet, I find them very tasty and tender.
I only pick very young ones while morel hunting. If it's over 8 inches forget it. If it's 3 to 4 inches it goes in my belly.
Simple rule as I'm out for the morels mainly. Get em if they're good.
I just made these for the first time tonight and my goodness they’re amazing!! Thanks for sharing!
How do the pheasant back mushrooms taste I ain't never ate one before
What do they actually taste like
As I mention it's a combination of mushroom and cucumber or melon rind. I love it. Some don't.
I just found a whole bunch of these. They are tender. Can I keep them for 24 hours before eating?
Absolutely. The beauty of fresh mushrooms is that they're so fresh. This means the shelf life is incredible compared to store-bought. Make sure they're clean, then put them in a zip-loc bag with a paper towel, or some fresh, clean greens (a chef trick). They will keep for at the very least 4-5 days, and up to a week or more depending on how quickly you cooled them down and the age of the mushroom.
My husband actually likes his super tender so we peeled ours when we got home, sliced them into fries, and froze them immediately.