April and May are the two favorite months of mushroom hunters. Warm weather coupled with spring rains mean mushrooms start popping up everywhere, making this time of year prime time for foraging. Morel mushrooms are the favorite among most hunters, but there are several other edible wild mushrooms that are often overlooked, including the pheasant back mushroom.
Pheasant back mushroom (also known as Dryad’s saddle) is extremely common and fairly easy to identify. Scanning the woods in early spring, the light color will usually stand out against the dark wood of rotting trees or logs. If you have a good sense of smell like I do, you’ll be able to smell them before you see them—it’s a sweet, almost fruit-like scent.
The mushrooms grow like little shelves, closely resembling the coloring and pattern of a pheasant, with brown scales like feathers on the top. Use a knife to cut the thick stem, and upon turning them upside down you’ll see white spores underneath. The small, young mushrooms are the best ones to pick, as the larger ones can tend to get a bit rubbery or infested with bugs. If you do find a large one that looks to be in fairly good shape, however, cut it and bring it home.
How to Clean Pheasant Back Mushrooms
Cleaning pheasant back mushrooms is a bit different than cleaning other mushrooms. First, you don’t want to soak them in water as they will become water-logged and turn to inedible mush. To remove any dirt, use a sponge or soft brush to clean the mushrooms under running water and pat them dry. Cut off any pieces that look chewed, dried up, or just unpalatable.
Turn the mushrooms upside down so the white spore side is facing up. Use a metal spoon to gently scrape the spores off of the mushroom. They should come off very easily. Once the spores are removed, turn the mushroom right side up. Using your fingers or a knife, gently peel off the thin layer of “skin” that creates the scaled pheasant feather look on top. This should also come off easily, especially on the young ones. If you’re having trouble peeling it off, use a paring knife to finish skinning the mushroom.
Most newbies who gather pheasant back mushrooms are unaware of the scraping and skinning steps, which are important if you want the mushrooms to be tender, and not tough and chewy.
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Preparing Pheasant Back Mushrooms
There are many different ways to eat pheasant back mushrooms. If you have gathered mostly young mushrooms, you can simply slice them and use them like you would mushrooms in any dish. If you have some larger mushrooms, I like to bread them and create an amazing fried mushroom appetizer platter. Here is the recipe.
Fried Pheasant-Back Mushrooms
- 2-3 large pheasant back mushrooms, cleaned
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp pepper
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp cayenne powder
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- Oil for frying
- Dipping sauce of your choice
- Slice your mushroom into thin strips, no thicker than ¼-inch.
- In a large bowl, combine the eggs and milk, and whisk to make an egg wash.
- In a second shallow bowl, combine the flour, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, salt, and cayenne. Mix well.
- Carefully drop your mushroom strips into the egg wash and stir until all strips are coated. Then, one strip at a time, drop into the seasoned flour and toss to coat. Set aside and continue until all of the mushroom pieces are breaded. You can opt to coat a second time in egg wash and flour, but I find that once is usually enough.
- In a large skillet, heat your oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, carefully place your mushroom pieces into the skillet. Don’t overcrowd them, as the oil temperature will drop and the pieces will end up soggy.
- Fry until golden brown, flipping the pieces if needed to fry both sides. Once the pieces are done, set aside on paper towels to drain. Continue until all mushroom pieces are fried. Serve immediately with a southwest ranch dipping sauce, or another sauce of your choice.