One of the more unusual varieties of wild mushrooms to be found at Turnips
Image: Regula Ysewijn
Coral mushrooms are one of the more aptly named vegetables. If one catches your eye, it will probably trigger thoughts of David Attenborough’s latest ocean-based odyssey and have you looking around for the great man himself.
“There are around 200 types of coral mushrooms. They are foraged, as opposed to farmed, growing anywhere there are tree trunks rotting on the forest floor,” says Borough Market demonstration chef Katherine Frelon. “They come in a wide variety of colours, but it is advisable to only eat the white, beige or yellow mushrooms, and definitely avoid the brightly-coloured ones. As with all wild mushrooms if you are not an expert, it is best to buy through a reputable dealer”—happily, this particular variety can be found at Turnips in Borough Market.
In terms of availability, they are around for most of the year as they grow throughout Europe, and in parts of the US and Far East. However, they usually start to appear in British markets around autumn, which is when we can expect to see most of the more unusual varieties.
One look at them tells you that coral mushrooms are tricky to clean—especially the crowns—but there is a technique. Katherine recommends breaking the mushroom into small clusters and submerging them into ice cold water. “Dip them in and out a few times, drain, and dry on a clean towel before cooking.”
Mild, earthy taste
They have two distinct textures. First there is the base, where the stems grow from. “This is quite firm. You can slice as well as chop this section and it will hold its shape when cooked.” Then there are the stems, which are very delicate and so have to be treated with care. “They have a lovely mild, earthy taste with a wonderfully intense mushroom fragrance,” Katherine continues. “They are very delicate, so you do not need to cook them very much.”
If you haven’t tried coral mushrooms before, one nice way of using them is in a miso soup. “Add some thinly sliced raw vegetables, miso paste, tofu and shredded green onions into a dashi stock—a Japanese stock used in many of their dishes. When the soup is ready, drop in a few clusters of coral mushroom crowns just before serving. The heat from the soup will be enough to cook them,” says Katherine. “It is a quick and very tasty dish.”
Another recipe Katherine recommends for the coral mushroom newcomer involves two British favourites: pasta and fresh cream. “I blanch the base of my coral mushrooms for a couple of minutes in boiling water, then I drain them and sauté them in a hot frying pan for five to eight minutes, with butter, salt, garlic and freshly ground black pepper. I then add a splash of vinegar and cream, and serve with chopped flat leaf parsley, freshly made tagliatelle and cream. It is a very simple dish that allows the flavour of the mushrooms to come through.
“I would say, though, that they are not suitable for all dishes. If you were making a boeuf bourguignon, for example, and wanted to give it a bit of a twist I wouldn’t use coral mushrooms because they are so fragile, they would simply get lost,” Katherine advises. “Apart from the lovely flavour, I like the fact they look so interesting. They always start a conversation when brought to the table at a dinner party.”