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Botany: Where to find Dryad’s Saddle and how to cook them

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Photo by Tim Taranto
The underside of Dryad’s Saddle contains cream-colored, spongy pores. — photo by Tim Taranto

A few days after a particularly Old Testament-like storm, I noticed what looked like the Starship Enterprise sprouting from the trunk of a maple. It was a massive disc-shaped fungus known as the Dryad’s Saddle. These parasitic polypores are some of the first mushrooms to appear in the woods during morel season in the spring, and they can still be found late into the fall. And they don’t just look cool: If you know what you’re doing, they can make a tasty snack.

Identify Them

You can find Dryad’s Saddles (or “Hawk’s Wing,” or “Pheasant Back,” or—if you want to get Linean—Polyporus squamosus) hanging out as parasites on living deciduous trees like oaks and maples or as decomposers on logs and stumps. They first sprout up stout and cork-shaped, about the size of your thumb, before unfurling to their full size as fan-shaped semi-circular mushrooms sometimes exceeding 12 inches in diameter.

The names Hawk’s Wing and Pheasant Back are apt, as the top of the mushroom has a distinct feathery pattern of brown and tan. The underside contains large cream-colored, spongy pores that do not bruise when handled. The best way to identify a Dryad’s Saddle, however, is by its scent. They have a distinctly un-mushroom like odor, and smell more like a watermelon rind or a freshly sliced cucumber than mushrooms.

Dryad’s Saddles can easily be removed from their host trees with a knife, and are sturdy enough that they shouldn’t fall apart in your mushrooming basket or bag. In my experience, the only ones worth eating are the ones no larger than your hand; any bigger, and they tend to be rubbery or tough.

Prep Them

Like chanterelles, Dryad’s Saddles aren’t inhabited by too many unwelcome arthropods, so you don’t have to soak them before cooking (though I would suggest giving them a good rinse and scrubbing their caps gently). Most of the preparation involves removing the spongy pores. This can be done by scraping them off with the edge of a pocketknife or paring knife. Once the pores have been scraped off, the firm, white meat of the mushroom should be visible. Next, cut away any tough flesh near the stem. After that, Dryad’s Saddles can be stored in the fridge, frozen, or pickled.

Eat Them: Dumplings

• 2 cups Dryad’s Saddles, diced
• 3/4 cup Sundubu (soft Korean tofu)
• 2 medium scallions, chopped
• 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
• 1 tablespoon ginger, chopped
• 1 teaspoon Chinese vinegar
• 1 teaspoon soy sauce
• Pepper, to taste
• 1 package of wonton skins
• Chili oil or Gyoza sauce for dipping

Preparation

Saute mushrooms on medium heat with a little bit of vegetable oil.
Add salt until they brown and release a good amount of water.
Mix mushrooms, tofu, scallions, ginger and garlic in a bowl with a fork.
Add vinegar, soy sauce and pepper to the mixture.
Plop a teaspoon of mixture in your wonton skin and wet two edges of the skin with warm water.
Fold the skin, sealing it gently with your finger.
Dab the left corner of the wonton with a little more warm water and bundle it up.
Drop the wonton in boiling water.
Boil for no more than five minutes.

This article originally appeared in Little Village issue 187.


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