Cauliflower fungus is a desirable edible that can be confidently identified by novice foragers — making it a great find for those looking for some culinary adventure
Cauliflower fungus (Sparassis crispa) is a choice and easily identifiable edible that really invites some culinary experimentation. It has a firm, almost rubbery, texture and a faint nuttiness to its flavour profile, particularly to the more delicate edges of its many dense folds. As its texture doesn’t break down when cooked, Cauliflower fungus lends itself well to replacing noodles in broths or stir fries, although it also works well fried up crispy in a light batter or coating. It certainly begs to be served more centre stage than dolloped on toast or blended anonymously into a pate or soup.
It’s a lucky forager who finds a spot for this autumn fungus as it usually returns every year. It is also a good choice for novice mushroom hunters as it has no poisonous lookalikes in the UK. The only species likely to cause confusion is the spatulate cauliflower fungus (Sparassis spathulata), which grows on broadleaf trees but is also edible, albeit less tasty.
Cauliflower fungus grows in brain-like semi-spheres around the roots of pine trees and stumps, with large specimens able to reach sizes of up to 40cm wide and 25cm high. Although it is a saprobic fungus, it is a weak parasite and living trees can survive many years as its host.
In Asia, culinary fungi are often as appreciated for their texture as they are for their flavour and nutritional value, so we were inspired to try out an oriental-style soup to showcase this unusual mushroom. As we head deeper into autumn, the hot and sour flavour palate with its warming and immune-boosting ginger, chilli and garlic also adds a welcome lift. For a vegan version, you can leave out the egg, although it does add a wonderful silky texture, and replace the honey with agave syrup.
Cauliflower fungus is best picked when fresh and still cream-coloured – before it starts to brown with age. When preparing this fungus, special care needs to be taken to remove any insects, dirt or pine debris that may be hiding in the dense lobes. It is best to break it up into similar sized chunks, as you would serve cauliflower, and give them a good hard rinse in a colander under the tap.
Ingredients (serves 2)
Approx 125g of cauliflower fungus
2 tbsp mirin (rice wine vinegar)
1 ½ tbsp soy sauce
500ml/1pt vegetable stock
Runny honey or vegan honey alternative
1 large clove garlic
1 large red chilli
3cm piece of ginger
Ground nut or sesame oil for frying
Pinch of course sea salt
100g other foraged edible mushrooms or tofu (optional)
1 free range egg (omit for vegan)
2 spring onions
Small handful coriander
Peel the garlic and deseed the chillies, roughly chop and place into a pestle and mortar. Add a pinch of course salt and bash to a rough paste. Peel, finely chop and add the ginger, then grind again until broken down and combined.
Heat a glug of groundnut or sesame oil in a wok or saucepan over a medium-high heat, add the Cauliflower Fungus (and additional mushrooms if using) and fry for a few minutes until cooked. Stir in the chilli paste and heat for a further minute.
While the mushroom is cooking, mix together the mirin and soy sauce and a drizzle of honey/vegan honey alternative. Stir the mixture into the pan and cook for a minute, pour in the hot vegetable stock and bring gently to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, or until slightly reduced.
If adding tofu, chop into 1cm cubes. Finely slice the spring onions and chop the coriander. Whisk the egg well in a bowl.
Once reduced, remove the soup from the heat. Using the end of a spoon, stir the soup into a little whirlpool and slowly add the beaten egg. If using the tofu/additional mushrooms, add now and return to the heat for one minute to warm through.
Serve immediately with the spring onions and coriander scattered on top as a garnish.
Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!