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Oyster mushrooms and porcinis in class

Despite the extensive drought in California, some prized edible mushrooms are sneaking their way into my classroom. As mentioned in a previous post, I’m teaching a class at UC Berkeley this semester called California Mushrooms. Students bring in mushrooms that they find hiking around the local forests or on campus, and we identify them in lab. Imagine my delight when this giant pile of oyster mushrooms walked into my classroom a few weeks ago!


Whenever we get a sizable collection of edible mushrooms in the classroom we cook them so that all of the students can try them. Oyster mushrooms, also known as Pleurotus ostreatusare not necessarily the most prized mushrooms because they are not that scarce. Unlike chanterelles and porcinis, which are ectomycorrhizal fungi and are mutualistically associated with trees, oyster mushrooms are saptrophic fungi that make a living by decaying dead material such as wood. This is an easy environment to reproduce in culture so oyster mushrooms are cultivated and thus readily abundant. You might have seen them in your local grocery store. Or you might be seeing them on downed logs while hiking around in the forest, which is where my student found them in the woods in Marin county. 

We cleaned and sliced up the mushrooms and prepped them on our handy wooden cutting board in lab. As you saw in the chicken of the woods post, we have a set up where we bring in a portable hot plate and cook mushrooms in the fume hood.


We like to cook the mushrooms simply in butter and add salt so the students can taste them in their purest element. I do enjoy oyster mushrooms but I will admit that they are not the most flavorful.  However, oyster mushrooms would add great texture and meaty flavor to a stir fry or an egg dish.

IMG_2484Chicken of the woods, which I wrote about in my last post, has been coming in a lot as well as it is a common parasite of Eucalyptus trees on campus and in Albany and Berkeley. Since they are so tasty and were such a hit in the previous class, we decided to cut those up and cook them as well.


Don’t they add a lovely color? Here are the oyster mushrooms all cooked up. You can see we use pretty fancy flatware in class…


Now of course the students love trying all new mushrooms but I was especially excited when we got our first porcini! Alas it was only a single mushroom that was found by one of the students hiking around in Mendocino, but I had to cut it up for students to try since it is such a prized edible.


Porcinis are ectomycorrhizal fungi, mutualistically associated with trees, so they must be foraged in order to find them because it is a really difficult environment to recreate in culture. Many mushrooms in the genus Boletus are lumped into the edible category of porcinis, but the one that we had in class was the queen bolete Boletus regineus known for the white bloom she has on her cap when young. Mushrooms in the genus Boletus are distinctive for having tubes instead of gills. Remember my post about hedgehog mushrooms where I mentioned that mushrooms in the genus Hydnum have spiny teeth instead of gills? Mushrooms have evolved all sorts of awesome mechanisms for dispersing their spores!


Porcinis are identifiable due to the brown bun shaped caps, the tubes, and the reticulation, or netting, on the top of the stem. Can you see it? As I mentioned previously, porcinis are a rare find and are super delectable so I was very excited to cook it in class.


As usual, we kept it simple cooking it in the frying pan with butter and salt. Porcinis are delicious in egg dishes, gravy, soups, many Italian dishes, and would likely add a rich buttery flavor to any dish. They were super buttery and delicious! Here’s my co-TA Vince enjoying mushrooms in our lab.


Here are the students gathering round to try the mushrooms! Bon apetit!


Chicken of the woods

Gorgeous Laetiporus water color by Roo Vandegrift; source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/werdnus_roo/11058420284/

Gorgeous Laetiporus water color by my talented friend Roo Vandegrift; source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/werdnus_roo/11058420284/

Laetiporus gilbertosinii, affectionately referred to as the chicken of the woods, is one of those mushrooms that you don’t really have to be an expert to identify. It is a bright orange shelf fungus and in Berkeley commonly grows sticking out of Eucalyptus trees. The Eucalyptus trees may not be very happy to host it (it’s a disease), however, lucky the mushroom hunter who passes by an infected tree! These mushrooms are nearly impossible to misidentify, as nothing else looks anything like it. However, CAUTION must be used when eating this mushroom because it must be cooked SUPER WELL in order to eat it, otherwise you will likely get sick. If you do find it, and you cook it super well, it is an extremely flavorful, meaty mushroom.


Only eat it when it is in the young and soft bright orange/yellow stage

This semester I am currently teaching a class in mushroom identification to Berkeley undergrads called California Mushrooms. These lucky students get to go outside and hunt for mushrooms for class! If they are super lucky and we find some good edibles, we cook them in class for everyone to try! My next couple posts will likely feature my students and various mushrooms that we try in class.


Do not eat the mushroom when it is in the old dried up stage

For chicken of the woods you only want to eat it when it is in the young, soft, and juicy stage. You will not be able to eat it if you find it in this hard, dried up stage. Luckily, some students brought in some fabulous young and juicy specimens to class so we got to try them in lab! Here is our fancy cooking set up in the fume hood of the teaching lab.


Cooking set up in the teaching lab

You want to be careful with this mushroom and only eat it when it is in the really young, soft, and juicy stage. Isn’t is a gorgeous orange/yellow color?


Chicken of the woods at the perfect soft and juicy ready for eating stage

Before cooking the mushrooms, we brushed off the dirt with a brush and sliced it up into fairly thin slices, so it cooks evenly.


Can’t get over the gorgeous yellow orange colors of this mushroom!

Since we were in the teaching lab we just cook up the mushrooms so everyone can try them, so you won’t be getting any fancy recipes from me in the posts about my class. However, I’ve heard they are really good in tacos!


Cooking the mushrooms in butter and salt

We cook them up in their purest form – with butter and salt! Again, this mushroom can get you sick if you don’t cook it super well so make sure it is nice and browned before eating it and only eat small amounts at first.


Gorgeous browned chicken of the woods in butter

How delicious do these little nuggets of mushroom goodness look? The mushrooms were super flavorful – they actually tasted a lot like cheddar cheese.

IMG_2451 IMG_2452

Students were super excited to gobble them up! Here is my advisor doling out the mushrooms.


Are you jealous of my California Mushrooms students?

Please feel free to leave recipe suggestions in the comments below!