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Eating wild mushrooms: Pheasant Back Stock in “Braising the Wild”

Jack Hennessy uses pheasant back mushrooms, a spring find, in “Braising the Wild” to make Pheasant Back Stock.

A throne of pheasant back mushrooms. Credit: Dara Hennessy.
A throne of pheasant back mushrooms.
Dara Hennessy

Jack Hennessy comes to the moment of spring with this Pheasant Back Stock. For some reason, I tend to know the mushrooms more as dryad’s saddle. I find his reasons for going the route of a stock intriguing.

Here is the recipe:

PHEASANT BACK STOCK

Since starting mushroom hunting several years ago in Minnesota, I have always considered pheasant back mushrooms spring’s consolation prize. No, they’re not morels. No, they don’t taste as nearly as good as morels either, but they are fun to find and can be fairly tasty when prepared properly.

Pheasant backs (also known as dryad saddles, hawks wings or Polyporus squamosus) should look like their name—the back of a pheasant—and their underside should be porous and smell like watermelon rind or cucumber. I’ve typically found them from April to June on very dead hardwoods or cut stumps or trees lying on the ground. They DO NOT grow from the ground—you will find them attached to a dead tree. However, if unsure, I always recommend not picking. As well, if you feel you want to get into mushroom hunting, I suggest joining a regional Facebook group or doing some online research, maybe picking up a book.

Most would argue the flavor and texture of pheasant backs are best with the size of your palm or smaller. Some cut them into strips, while others may dice. Make sure to wash properly before cooking.

For larger pheasant backs, when the texture may become rubbery, I like to make stock from these mushrooms. I’ve added this stock to dishes like my Wild Turkey and Pheasant Back Risotto (available online with the Chicago Sun-Times) and it’s incredible—the stock being arguably better than the mushrooms themselves. Additionally, you can find a not-so-great video on my Braising the Wild YouTube channel: Making Pheasant Back Mushroom Stock.

Ingredients:

Several large pheasant back mushrooms, washed and chopped

One medium yellow onion, sliced and skin kept on

5-7 celery stalks, washed and chopped

1 cup black whole peppercorns

1/4 cup kosher salt

4-5 bay leaves

Canola or vegetable or sunflower oil

In a large, tall soup pot, heat a very thin layer of oil on medium heat.

Add vegetables and allow to soften and brown slightly.

Wash mushrooms thoroughly. Once vegetables are slightly brown and soft, chop and add mushrooms, plus peppercorns and salt.

Continue to sauté for several minutes, until mushrooms start to brown and turn soft.

Cover all with water, up to just below lip of soup pot. Turn heat to medium-low or low—do NOT allow water go above a very low simmer.

After 1 hour of a very low simmer, drain stock, removing ingredients and allow stock to cool before storing or canning.