Beefsteak fungus, also called Fistulina hepatica is a distinctive edible fungus which can be found in the forests of Europe and the United States. In some parts of Europe, beefsteak fungus is available for sale in markets and restaurants. This highly unusual mushroom resembles meat in texture and color, and is sometimes used by vegetarians as a meat course. It is also relatively easy to identify, although wild mushrooms should never be collected without experienced supervision.
The beefsteak fungus can grow to a width of 12 inches (30 centimeters) on the trunks of hardwood trees such as oak. In color, it is red to brown on top with a pale white underside, with distinctive pores that can be seen with a hand lens. In some parts of the world, beefsteak fungus can be found growing on lawns or at the base of trees in clustered groups. The shape of the fungus is vaguely fanlike, although it can also resemble a large tongue.
The best time of year to find the fungus is in the late fall, when rain has encouraged the mushrooms to start sprouting. Older mushrooms tend to have a more woody texture and flavor, so you should aim to collect moderately sized specimens with an even color and no slimy or soft spots. Insects favor the pores of beefsteak fungus, and it can be soaked in salt water before use if this is a concern.
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When cut, the beefsteak fungus exudes a red fluid which resembles blood. The soft streaky flesh reminds many consumers of liver or other rich meats, and it has a slightly tannic, slightly sour flavor. Beefsteak fungus can be eaten raw or cooked in a variety of preparations, and takes well to marination. In Europe, the flavor is very popular and sought after, although some people dislike the sour flavor, which can be intense if the mushroom is not prepared with care.
Soaking beefsteak fungus in water will help to eliminate the tannic and sour flavors, which can be further mitigated if the mushroom is boiled. One of the most common preparations for beefsteak fungus is thin raw slices to dress salads. The slices will add color and texture, as well as a slightly unusual flavor. Beefsteak fungus can also be sauteed or grilled, or coated in a herb crust and fried. Like other mushrooms, beefsteak fungus will keep best in a paper bag under refrigeration.