I would love to tell you that the chicken of the woods in this recipe was the result of an exciting day spent foraging, prowling the likes of Hampstead Heath, waiting for the yellow glow of a strip of funghi beaming from a tree. Unfortunately, this is not the case. These are from Borough Market.
I would love to know how to forage for mushrooms without being in fear of my life. I’ve bought several books, including a mushroom encyclopedia, but the knowledge that 300 people die in France each year from eating poisonous mushrooms, terrifies me. I will do it, but first I need to learn from a pro, someone who knows what they’re doing and can impart that information to me. For now, I’ll forage the obvious, nettles, wild garlic and the likes, and buy my wild mushrooms when I can.
Don’t underestimate the excitement contained in turning the corner of the market and spying a table in front of a shop laden with large misshapen fungi. I had to know what it was and I had to have it. I was curious as to what I would do with it. I thought, originally: Risotto? Tagliatelli? With garlic and butter on toast? Then I thought, well, it apparantly tastes of chicken, so why not deep fry it? I could make it a wild treat and accompany it with a homemade wild garlic mayo?
As for tasting of chicken – what next?? Everything seems to taste of chicken, how did this become our culinary benchmark? A fungus, tasting of chicken? I had to investigate. I must confess that I didn’t find it much like chicken atall, it didn’t have a strong flavour, and the texture wasn’t particularly chicken like. Ok, so it’s more like chicken than other mushrooms. This may be because it wasn’t as fresh as it could have been, so I will try it again before discounting the chicken connection. I am too intrigued not to!
The mayonnaise is really straightforward, if time consuming. I promise that it is worth it! I made a small amount as I wanted to make it by hand and didn’t want to spend all night doing it. Even at that I have two blisters to show off tomorrow. I used beautiful Burford Brown eggs with large golden yolks, so if you’re not using these you might want to use less oil. I used the egg white leftover from the mayonnaise to coat the fungi. To coat I used panko (japanese breadcrumbs) – they are fantastic, but if you can’t get them, it’s fine to substitute normal mushrooms. I pureed some wild garlic with some walnuts in a small amount of olive oil. This was the result of an experiment earlier in the week, and for my taste too strong for a pesto, but really good with the mayonnaise. You only need a small amount so, if you are making it only for this dish use about 5 leaves and 3 walnuts, blanch the leaves for 20 seconds in boiling water to take the sharpness off them, and grind them with with the walnuts in a little olive oil in your pestle and mortar and add it to the mayonnaise. I would forgive you for using shop bought mayonnaise if you don’t have the time :-)
Chicken of the Woods, cut into slim segments (I used two medium ones, use as much as you want)
Some seasoned flour (plain flour seasoned with S&P)
1 egg white (add another egg if you have alot of fungi)
Some panko (or normal breadcrumbs)
Oil for frying (I used groundnut)
Wild Garlic & Walnut Mayonnaise:
1 large egg yolk
50ml extra virgin olive oil
60ml groundnut oil
1/4 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp white wine vinegar
Roughly (depending on your taste): 5 wild garlic leaves and three walnuts, ground in a pestle and mortar with a little olive oil, as above
Firstly, make the mayonnaise. Add the salt, mustard and vinegar to the egg yolk, and whisk adding the oil a drop at a time. (Promise! It’s worth it!). Be careful to add it slowly as it may curdle otherwise, it’s not worth the risk. As you add the oil, it will start to get thicker, you can start to add it a little quicker then but not too much. When you’ve added all of the oil check the seasoning. Add the wild garlic and walnut mixture to taste.
Coat each slice of mushroom, firstly in the flour, then the egg white and finally the breadcrumb. Heat some oil until a piece of bread cooks on adding to the oil. Add your fritters to the oil and cook until golden brown, turning halfway through if necessary. This should only take a couple of minutes.
Drain excess oil and dry on kitchen paper. Season. Serve immediately with the mayonnaise.