Boullion of the Woods

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BOTW before grinding.

If you’re a mushroom forager, Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus spp.) aren’t really the first fungi that spring to mind when thinking about drying the harvest. Indeed, the appearance of a slightly-too-far-gone specimen is something of a wild food cliché, sometimes accompanied by gags of the “no spring chicken” variety. Hilarious.

When they are fresh, it is their tenderness, as well as their flavor that encourages comparisons with poultry. Newly-emerged Laetiporus can be stir- or deep-fried to resemble chicken breast meat to a very credible degree. When they are still fresh but not quite as soft, I can still deep-fry them or use them in a slow-cooked dish with great results. They can also be used at this point, and perhaps a little further along, to make a great mushroom and herb powder that substitutes quite handily for powdered or cubed chicken bouillon.

First, the mushrooms should be dried in a dehydrator or by placing on wire racks in a place with a great deal of air movement and not much humidity. Once they are dried quite thoroughly they can be made into the BOTW or left in glass or plastic jars bags until ready to be ground. You will get the most optimal results by using the freshest mushrooms. If the fungus is really quite dry when you encounter it, it may already have lost too much of its flavor to be saved. If you prepare this, also try the test mentioned below and see if the flavor is adequate.

Combine in a food processor :

4 oz. dried chicken of the woods mushrooms (Laetiporus spp.)

2 tbs good-quality sea salt

1/4 cup dried wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) leaf

2 tbs dried sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) leaf

Pulse and then process until the product resembles semolina or corn meal.

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Ground BOTW.

To test the flavor, dissolve a small amount in a coffee mug full of hot water. If the flavor resembles chicken broth, you’re good to go.

As far as substitutions, you can use oregano in lieu of wild bergamot, and perhaps thyme or bay leaf in half the quantity listed to substitute for sweetfern. The flavor won’t be exactly the same, but should still serve amiably.  You may wish to add more salt to more closely approximate dried chicken bouillon (which is extremely salty), but I usually find it more helpful to add salt to the dish directly, leaving this powder with just enough salt content to use as a broth base without making it too salty to add to dishes with abandon.

Texture of the ground powder is a consideration. I like to leave it a bit coarse, even allowing for the occasional lentil-sized nugget of Laetiporus to go unground. These larger bits can always be strained out of a broth later if I am looking for consommé-like refinement. More often I am using BOTW to add to meatballs or stews, or as a base for a ramen bowl. In these cases, small chunks of mushroom are a bonus rather than a hindrance. If you prefer it finer, simply grind until it is as fine as white flour.

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Ramen made with BOTW, shredded parsley root, cooked leeks and parsley root leaf.

To use as a soup base (it makes a lovely ramen powder), use 1 tbs to 2 cups of water. You can also use it to enhance a tired or weak broth by adding in the same ratio or slightly less. Be careful when adding to quickly-boiling water or broth, as the BOTW will make the hot liquid tend to foam vigorously if the heat is too high. The coarser the grind, the more likely you are to use it as a substitute for breadcrumbs in dishes with good success. In a heavily-breaded dish I may add a couple of tablespoons of BOTW for every cup of panko or breadcrumbs.

There are a myriad of other uses for BOTW, from adding to soups or stews to savory bread and pancake mixes, or adding to liquid sauces which will be strained in lieu of broth. The powder is relatively low in salt, so can be used as a lower-salt substitute or liason for dishes in which savory flavor is called for but salt must be kept to a minimum. BOTW can also substitute in any recipe that calls for ground dried mushrooms or mushroom powder. Bear in mind its’ salt content while using, and increase or decrease the salt content in the initial grind accordingly.

As I post more recipes using this handy kitchen helper I will post them here, for now :

Oyster Mushroom “Meatballs”

 

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Winter Celery Root Salad

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Take :

1 lb celery root, peeled and grated or julienned on a mandoline

* Save the peels and leftover pieces from grating and use in celery root syrup (recipe to follow).

Toss grated root with:

1/2 tsp salt

Allow to stand for at least 20 minutes.

Add :

about 1/2 cup strong fermented greens, chopped fine

about 1/3 cup pickled onions, diced or chopped small

about 1/4 cup sweet hot pickled carrots

* These can be around these proportions of any variety of different homemade or purchased fermented or pickled vegetables. The key is to play off of celery roots sweetness and use more intense and tart flavors. I would also avoid adding too much quantity of any one thing rather than overpower the celery root.

Toss, add :

2 tbs capers, chopped fine

A splash of vinegar of lemon juice if desired

1/4 cup of sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina), crumbled

2 tbs or so of wild basil (Cliopodium vulgare) leaves and flowers, crumbled

1-2 jalapenos or other fairly mild chile, diced

Toss and Serve

This salad produces its own dressing in the seasoned liquid created by salting the celery root and the various brined or fermented vegetables. It shouldn’t require oil, but it certainly won’t mind it. Try it with the modest amount of chiles recommended and see how it suits. I found that the addition of more ruined the finish of the celery root. This is a dish that benefits from a night in the fridge to let the flavors meld. It can be served chilled or at room temperature.

This is excellent served as a contrast to more rich or heavy dishes, being sharp and clean and quite healthy (unless of course one is on a low salt diet). Essentially a mixed pickle in the guise of a salad, it would be a good compliment to dishes such as catfish, fatty tuna, pork, tofu, beans, eggplant, okra, potatoes, beets, noodles and noodle soups. It works best as a salad if used in a sequence of small dishes

Just as the fermented or pickled vegetables could be endlessly varied, so could the herbs used. In the winter I tend to use dried herbs, and in this case wanted to showcase two forage herbs, but in the remaining seasons I would use fresh herbs to fit my fancy.

KEY : The key fact to remember with this recipe is to taste it constantly, especially when you’re experimenting with different combinations of fermented and pickled vegetables, and adjust accordingly.