.Shaggy Mane Mushroom
- Coprinus Comatus
Admire the structural delicacy of this stately mushroom, balanced precariously atop its tall, slender white stem. The long white bell-shaped cylindrical cap is covered with large shaggy buff, tan or brown scales, giving it the appearance of a British lawyer's wig. This is why one of its common names is "lawyer's wig." The spores are black. When young, a dainty annular ring is found around the stem; this ring drops down the stem as the mushroom matures. Within twenty-four to forty-eight hours, the borders of the cap begin to liquefy, and the entire cap is converted into a pool of inky black fluid, the origin of the common name "inky cap." Liquefied Coprinus comatus was used as writing ink in George Washington's day.
Despite its seemingly frail appearance, this mushroom can generate enough power to perform one of nature's most astonishing weight-lifting acts. Emerging shaggy mane caps may lift asphalt pavement into the air in segments, fragmenting it in the process. They do this by gradually absorbing water and slowly expanding, exerting upward pressure far out of proportion to their fragile substance.
This mushroom contributes its unique robust flavor to some of the tastiest wild-mushroom dishes, such as chicken Tetrazzini and shaggy mane cream soup. For the finest flavor it must be consumed before it begins to liquefy. Eating the dissolving mushroom is not harmful, but the cooked remnants will be slimy and less flavorful than those with solid flesh. Vietnamese villagers invert them in the hollows of empty egg cartons to prevent liquefaction in order to transport them. This allows them to survive for a few days longer. Fortunately, Coprinus comatus often fruits in large numbers, affording the collector the opportunity to gather mainly young and unliquefied specimens.
Coprinus micaceus ("mica cap") is a smaller, tawny yellow to reddish-brown member of this genus. In some parts of the country, it is more abundant than the shaggy mane. It is occasionally found growing in clumps from under protective rocks or logs. With a hand lens, shiny, angular, granular crystals may be seen at the apex of the cap. These particles resemble mica, from which the mushroom derives its name. C. micaceus can be used as a substitute for C. comatus, but it is not as flavorsome.
Some people eat C. atramentarius, a close relative of the shaggy mane. This mushroom contains a chemical called coprine, a substance which acts like the medicine Antabuse. As a rule, when alcoholic beverages of any sort are drunk before or after eating these mushrooms, one becomes quite uncomfortable.
Cleaning: Using your fingers or a soft brush and as little water as possible, very gently clean the mushrooms of dirt and debris. Water hastens their deterioration, so they should be cooked immediately. Careful collecting and gentle handling are essential to keep them intact.
Cooking: Do not cut these mushrooms into small pieces. The tissues are tender and the Coprinus cooks quickly. Sauté it in butter with chopped onions, salt and pepper, and add it to soup or pasta. Much liquid is released from the mushrooms when they are heated. Pouring off the fluid for later use will speed up the cooking process.
Its unique aromatic taste is transferred to the other foods and liquid with which it is prepared. Dairy dishes, soups, pasta, and poultry pick up its savoriness exceptionally well.
Preserving: After sautéing for 3 to 5 minutes, place in containers for freezing. Most of their flavor is lost when shaggy manes are dried.
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