This beautiful, nay, magnificent fungus was my first fresh wild mushroom of the year, and just look at it…
A thick, creamy, saucer-sized cap, as firm as a tennis ball, and, when I found it, as dry as a bone – no wonder the slugs couldn’t resist! But take a look underneath…
A velvety fan of deep autmunal-brown, aniseed-scented gills…. What a find to get back onto my forager’s feet!
Horse Mushrooms are among the very best of all edible fungi, and perhaps indeed among all foraged food. I place them second only to The Prince when it comes to mushrooms, and they are so deliciously sweet and meaty that only Lobsters and Brown Crabs hold the trump cards over the rest of the forager’s menu – seriously, they’re that good.
Identification & Links
Horse Mushrooms have a very unfortunate look-alike, which itself is the most common cause of mushroom poisoning in the UK – the Yellow Stainer. It is imperative, therefore, to learn both of these mushrooms, or else what you thought was going to be your most pleasing dish of autumn, might well be your last (well, to be fair, the Yellow Stainer is not actually a killer, but the effects of consumption could well be enough to put you off mushrooms for life). Both of these mushrooms stain yellow upon bruising, though the Yellow Stainer more vibrantly so. After a few minutes, however, the yellow seen in the Yellow Stainer fades to brown, whereas it persists in the Horse Mushroom. What the Horse Mushroom does not do, though, is stain yellow when cut through the base of the stem – the absolute distinguishing feature of The Yellow Stainer. So, if you remember nothing else, then remember this: Always ensure that your Horse Mushrooms do not stain yellow at the base of the stem.
Inky, sweet, pungent with a heady aniseed aroma – I advise that you do as little with mature, open-capped specimens as possible: brush with melted butter, sprinkle with salt and a little pepper, and bake under a hot grill. I wouldn’t even be tempted to use garlic oil or a squeeze of lemon – especially if it is your first one: you don’t want anything to infringe upon the Horse Mushroom’s intense flavour and melting texture. I promise you, when those inky-black juices lather over your tongue, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were biting into a hot rare slab of sirloin. Exquisite.
Younger specimens, though still sweet, lack the gusto of their older brethren, and can be used as you would any other mushroom. I managed to collect both young and old on my travels, and so came up with a recipe that combines both: Baked Horse Mushroom Stuffed with Mushroomy Tapenade. Enjoy.