Friday, August 23, 2013

Eating my first Beefsteak Polypore (Fistulina hepatica) & Identification

I am very excited about Sunday's mushroom find: my very first Fistulina hepatica! Commonly called the beefsteak fungus, beefsteak polypore, or the ox tongue polypore.

I know, it's a strange thing to be excited about . . . but this fungus, though it can be found anywhere in the East, is still pretty uncommon to rare--especially in the northeast, where I live. Despite the fact that this was the first time I found this mushroom, I didn't have a second's doubt as to what it was, this is an incredibly distinctive fungus.

For years Fistulina hepatica was considered to be a polypore, because it follows the visible rules of polypores: it grows as a shelf on dead or living wood, lacks a central stalk or stem, and it "seems" to have pores instead of gills on the underside. Science is just learning now that these are actually tubes, and they function more like gills than like polypore pores. . . so this mushroom is no longer considered a polypore, and it has been officially put into the Agaricales, which used to be limited to gilled mushrooms!

Identifying Fistulina hepatica *

Where I cut the mushroom from the tree you can see the
translucent, juicy flesh and the liquid
  1. Growing as a fan-shaped shelf on dead or living wood
  2. Does NOT have a central stalk or stem
  3. Seems to have pores on the underside, really these are long tubes
  4. Does NOT have gills
  5. Color is pink to red to deep red on top, and white to cream to yellowish on the underside
  6. Underside bruises deep red to brown
  7. Texture, especially inside, somewhat gelatinous or rubbery. Flesh is somewhat translucent, and texturing closely resembles raw meat or a meaty fish, like a tuna.
  8. When fresh and young drips a pinkish or red liquid when sliced.
Pale underside that bruises dark red/brown
Realistically there is nothing toxic you could confuse it with, provided you follow the first 4 bullets carefully. There are a few non-toxic fungi that look somewhat similar. For comparison, take a look at Pycnoporus cinnabarinus (the cinnabar polypore). At first glance it's similar, but the mushroom is orangish-red, and the top and bottom are the same color, without a lighter underside. Also the mushroom is rigid, not gelatinous and the flesh is not translucent. The cinnabar polypore isn't toxic, but it apparently tastes horrible and is too tough to eat.

Ganoderma tsugae. When these mushrooms get older they loose their light
colors, becoming completely red. In that stage, they can resemble
beefsteak polypore, but they are too hard to eat.
Some Ganoderma varieties are also superficially similar, but they too are very hard and rigid, the flesh is solid, and not translucent, and they generally have white edges, with bands of color ranging from white, to yellow, orange and red. The Ganoderma varieties which are similar aren't edible, but they are dried and used medicinally for tea, especially in the East.

*As always you should never accept anything you read on the internet without verifying it for yourself with either a local expert or several publications. Colors can vary from monitor to monitor, and images are not as clear as in printed materials. Personally, before I eat anything I verify it with at least 3 reliable sources. I have found this to be a remarkably good way of ensuring my safety when foraging. 

My experience with Fistulina hepatica

Many people apparently regard this as a choice mushroom. I would be willing to experiment with it further, should I find another one, but as it is now. . . not one of my favorites. 

Most mushrooms have tons of suggested cooking methods on the internet, but since Fistulina hepatica is pretty rare, there wasn't a whole lot, and what their was was frequently contradictory. Rather than rely on the experiences of others, I decided to take a thin slice and sauté in a pan with some butter, to get a "baseline" taste. 

After a night in the fridge.
This is how they will sometimes look on the tree.
 Overnight in the fridge, my mushroom had dramatically darkened to a blood or "ox tongue" red. This is apparently the color it will be most of the time you find it, the bright red I found was an indicator that it was super fresh. The slices looked remarkably like fatty tuna or a slab of bacon, I couldn't wait to taste it!

Some say even young specimens of this mushroom are tough and require long cooking. That was certainly NOT the case with my mushroom. It was tender from the get go, and didn't  take long to cook through. Wow, though. The taste was painfully acidic. Not sour nor even tart, just acidic. Very strange. Apparently Fistulina hepatica has a variety of acids in it, including oxalic acid. (Avoid if you have RA or kidney problems). After reading more I decided to boil it to leech out the acid. I was determined to find a way to enjoy this mushroom!

Sliced thin, the mushroom looks remarkably like meat.
I sliced the remaining shelf very thin. When added to the boiling water, the water immediately turned pink, and would deepen to blood red as the mushroom boiled. After a while, about 15 minutes, it started to look like cooked meat, rather than raw meat. Perhaps I should have pulled it out then. Anyway, I left it for another 10 minutes, at which point all the pink was gone, and the mushroom had started to curl, it really had lost any appetizing look.
Immediately the water turns pink, but it was blood red
when the mushroom was finished cooking

 I tasted it, and all trace of acidity was gone--but so was most of the flavor. As a textural experience, boiled Fistulina hepatica is very interesting. The mushroom was slimy, but not overly so, and despite its gelatinous look, it really wasn't chewy. The mouthfeel is very similar to a fatty meat, like an unsmoked bacon; if you closed your eyes, you might think you were eating cooked meat fat. There was, however, more or less no taste. 

At this point I debated breading and frying the fungus, which was what several sources suggested. I really didn't want to though, in my opinion anything that needs to be battered and fried to taste good isn't worth eating. Instead, I hoped the mushroom would absorb flavors, and I decided to sauté it further in white wine, butter and garlic. It came out ok. It did absorb some of the flavor, and the meat fat mouthfeel was interesting, but it just wasn't great, or even that good. 
After boiling then sauteing in wine, butter and garlic.
The texture was as strange as the appearance.
Next time I think I might try some seafood spices, fresh lemon, and actually I would bread and fry it, in hope of turning it into a sort of mock-calamari, since the texture kind of reminded me of squid. I would also boil it less, pulling it out when it first starts to go from pink to brown, and look like cooked meat, but before it curls. I think it would better retain it's flavor that way. 

Still I got to experience a mushroom that isn't even often found in this area, and that is very exciting. Have any of you found and eaten one? What did you do, and how did you like it?


  1. I ate this raw and used a tuna tartare recipe. It was delicious

    1. Did you notice the acidity? And, if so, did it bother you? I am just trying to gauge whether my mushroom was normal of if I have a super sensitive pallet.

    2. HI all , I have tried many sizes of this beefs tongue the bigger ones tend to have more acidic taste, anyhow I found the best way to get rid of it is to sit it in a bowl of milk overnight or for at least 4 hours and then fry or griddle it with or without herbs. Please be careful when trying a new mushrooms that the write up doesn't say to avoid alcohol. This one appears ok with alcohol. So try the next one you find after letting it sit in milk. Enjoy.

  2. Fry it! Just with a little pepper. Lovely.

  3. Hi from Rainy France ! Ok I have tried from the biggest t the smallest Langue de bouef or beefs tongue and this is how the French prep it but firstly the small to the medium being the best tasting and depending on which tree you find it. put it in a bowl of milk for 4 hours to overnight then slice and fry like steak in salted butter and it tastes like steak - Voila! Add whatever spices you wish - I prefer garlic. I am currently trying my first cup of tea made from varnished conk or polypore it is supposed to be me medicinal so will see. let me know if one can post photos on here and I can show you what huge polypores I found.

    1. Hi Bianka

      Sorry about the delay in getting back to you! The milk sounds like a good idea, because it cancels out the acidity, right? Next time I find one I'm gonna try it.

      Please post any pictures you like--if I can help you ID I will definitely do so. It sounds like the polypore you are describing is a Ganoderma variety--like the one I took a picture of above. If so, then I use them to help clear my sinuses and get over colds and allergies. The doctor prescribes steroids, but they give me migraines, and these mushrooms work just as well with no side effects

    2. Found and cooked a couple of these over the weekend. Delicious. I peeled top and bottom, sliced into 1-2 cm slices, soaked in milk for an hour, washed under water and patted dry. I then heated a griddle pan (love those stripes), tossed the slices in a mixture of olive oil (2 tablespoons), crushed garlic (1-2 cloves) and salt & pepper. I lay them on the griddle without moving them and after a couple of minutes I turned and left them for a further 1-2 minutes. The slices went a dark red with lovely caramelised stripes and were very succulent.

    3. Where to go to upload photos? I cannot see anywhere on this page in the reply box?

    4. Hi Bianka,

      Not sure--for me it lets me upload, but maybe that's cause I own the blog. Would you like to email them to me? Please send to foragedfoodie (at) gmail (dot) com