If you have frequented a farmers’ market recently (or live near a bougie grocery store), you might have seen them. They look like pale little tribbles — fluffy and soft and kind of cute — but they are mushrooms, and they have a sinister side (they murder trees).
Lion’s mane mushrooms get their ferocious name from their appearance, but they have a mild, kind of sweet flavour that some have likened to crab or even marzipan. I can detect both almonds and a slight air of seafood at the front, but those subtle flavours quickly give way to mild, earthy mushroomy-ness. They’re good on their own, and they’re spongey little bodies soak up whatever flavourful fat you cook them in. They’re fun to look at, fun to prep — you can rip ‘em apart like soft bread — and fun to eat. But, like all mushrooms, they require a little specialised care.
How to pick ‘em
Lion’s mane mushrooms are parasites that attack and kill living trees so that they may feast upon their dead bodies. Foraging for them is therefore an act of service. In addition to upright trees, the fluffy menaces can be found on stumps, fallen branches, or dead, fallen trees (their favourite food). Keep an eye out if you live in an area that has a lot of birch, maple, or oak — especially if that birch, maple, or oak has fallen over.
You can also find them at fancy grocery stores for fancy people (or at farmer’s markets). They should look fluffy, and either white or pale yellow (they will darken as they age), and should be dry and free from bruises (dirt is ok). They shouldn’t have much of a smell, so avoid specimens that smell like anything other than mushrooms.
How to store ‘em
Lion’s mane mushrooms will last up to a week if properly stored and cared for, and they really aren’t that finicky. Just keep them away from water — do not wash them until you are ready to eat them, if at all — and store them in your fridge away from the direct flow of cold air. (The crisper drawer will do just fine.) If you bought your fluff balls from a farm, they may come in a ventilated bag of some kind, and you should keep them in there, but a paper bag also works, provided you don’t fill the bag more than halfway (let those babies breath).
When you’re ready to eat them, simply brush off any dirt with a mushroom brush (or a pastry brush) and cut off the little woody “foot.” If you simply must wash them, rinse them very quickly under cold running water, and squeeze them gently to remove the excess. Tear them apart and let them dry on paper towels or a clean hand towel before cooking.
How to eat ‘em
Lion’s mane mushrooms are very soft and naturally quite moist, with a fun, bouncy texture that’s almost meaty. Large mushrooms can be sliced into planks before pan frying in butter, or you can tear them into bite-sized morsels, toss them with oil, and roast until they are golden brown. Basically, cook them like you would any other mushroom (with butter), and eat them like you would any other mushroom (joyfully).