I was fortunate enough to get a really great tour of Guided by Mushrooms this past weekend. They have some amazing things going on and the Lions Mane alone is top notch. In addition they also grow Phoenix Oysters and Chestnuts, have a line of merchandise and do medicinal tinctures. Very cool stuff.
Growing mushrooms is super involved and takes a serious approach to cleanliness (think sterilized air and long medium bag pressure cooks) along with a passion for knowledge and adaptivity. Every mushroom likes its own climate and will thrive best in that range. We got to see the fruiting chambers and the colonized mycelium sacks and where the process begins in a cleanroom. I was very impressed and had more questions than I can include here!
In the end I walked out with a Lions Mane block to bring home and fruit myself and three beautiful specimens of the mushroom to try in the kitchen that night. It’s my understanding that all mushrooms should be cooked before eating for safety so know that now. Did I try the Lions Mane raw because I had to know the base flavor? Yes, and I’m still here.
The Cut and Texture
So, for those of you familiar with extra firm tofu and what it’s like to chop cauliflower you are already prepared for this mushroom. The texture was described as a touch seafood, lobster tail-ish, with a gentle firmness. I am allergic to seafood and could never tell you what the texture of it is like.
I do know tofu though and would describe Lions Mane texture as being very much like a quality extra firm tofu but without the crumbly nature. More smooth and protein bound. Almost white fish, not quite chicken. I recommend frying this up quick in a hot pan with a high smoke oil and going simple with salt and pepper at first. This should crisp up the outside and leave a great tender center that has some chew to it. I cut my “steaks” about 1/2″.
Truth. I don’t care for most mushrooms mouthfeel. Growing up, the only time I saw mushrooms were the canned type on the deluxe pizza and the “cream of” soups that as an 8yo I avoided like the plague. I’ve slowly learned to appreciate the flavors behind what can be a slimy mouthfeel. Shroom and doom be damned. I now know to stay fresh, tho occasionally dried, and that I like my mushrooms grilled or seared and on the not wet side.
Lions Mane is perfect for me. The flavor is mellow earthy, not dank, and because the fruit is spongey it comes across much more dense and chewy. Not slimy in the least. I fried mine in leftover Nashville hot bacon grease and then tossed the pieces in hot sauce. Note – Lions Mane chops like cauliflower so you’re going to end up with little bits in the pan. I use these as taste testers to know how done the dish is. Remember, the mushroom will really crisp when it sits outside the pan so pull it just a tad early.
I tried all the JuicyMelt sauces and ended up loving All The Fun best. The white pepper went great with the earthy notes already present and the sweet/acidic peach jumped the whole thing to life making it flavorful with a juicy bite up front and a long peppery finish all without losing the mushroom character. Lions Mane is not a bold flavored mushroom and I could see spicing it more like a white fish when pan frying. Next time I’m going to break the Lions Mane up into chunks and do a quick deep fry with clean oil. (They could handle a batter for sure but that’s not generally how I roll.) I think this approach will give some something like chicken chunks that can carry a hotter sauce. I like to keep it spicy ya know.
Now I can’t wait for my block to reach the fruiting stage. I’m thinking I’ll post some pics as it changes over the next couple weeks so keep an eye on my ‘Gram. Many thanks to the Sparks fam for the tour and their dedication to such an amazing product.
Thanks for reading,