Sparassis, the Elusive Cauliflower Mushroom

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Holding a cauliflower mushroom
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Sparassis. Cauliflower mushroom. Queen of the forest. A one-mushroom party. Big, easy to identify, delicious. What’s not to love?

If this sounds too good to be true, it is. The cauliflower mushroom, as S. crispa is commonly called out here, is devilishly hard to find. I’ve walked whole seasons here in California without finding one. But walk you must, because this mushroom is a loner.

The silver lining is that cauliflower mushrooms come up in the same spot year after year, so mark your GPS or mental map. Also mark your calendar because you won’t want to miss your chance.

The sparassis I am holding in the picture above is half of one my friend Eric and I found on California’s North Coast. I’ve returned to this spot several times this season, but our drought had been so severe I thought I might never see it again. Thankfully we’re now getting some serious rain, so I can only hope to see it sprout soon.

Typically cauliflower mushrooms pop between December and early March here in California. It’s a bit earlier in the Pacific Northwest; my friend Langdon Cook tends to find them in October and November up in Washington. There is an Eastern variety of sparassis, too: S. spathulata, that you can find as early as July and as late as October. You can find a variety of sparassis in Europe, too.

That’s the when. The “where” is at the base of a tree. Sparassis is a saprobe, a parasite that leeches off particular kinds of trees. In the West it will be pines — mine’s under a Bishop pine — and in the East look at the base of hardwoods. The mushroom seems to prefer older trees that are a little beat down; my sparassis is under a pine with a trunk about two feet wide with a bunch of storm-broken limbs.

What you’re looking for is a large, ivory-to-yellow clump. How large? A gigantic one can weigh a full 100 pounds, but most are between a pound and 10 pounds. They burst up from under the pine duff and really shine in a dark wood.

Identification is super easy. Langdon has the best analogy: Imagine a big batch of egg noodles that you left in a colander overnight. That is exactly what a sparassis looks like. There are no poisonous look-similars.

Cut the mushroom at the ground level and shake it upside down to dislodge random pine needles, woodland creatures and whatnot. Take it home and refrigerate it for up to a week, covered in a paper towel or cloth in a plastic container. The edges will yellow as the cauliflower mushroom ages, but it will still be OK.

closeup of sparassis structure
photo by Holly A. Heyser

Once you are ready to cook your sparassis, you will need to grab your favorite adult beverage and get to cleaning. All those folds trap ungodly amounts of debris — and gird your loins for millipedes and earwigs leaping out at you. How do I do it? I cut the mushroom into chunks and dunk them into a big bowl of cold water. Cauliflower mushrooms don’t absorb a lot of moisture easily, so fear not. Slice off any gnarly looking bits and lay the good pieces on a cloth to dry.

How to cook them? Cauliflower mushroom is the ultimate soup mushroom. It’s essentially a cross between an al dente egg noodle and a mushroom. It has a mild flavor a lot like a morel mushroom that happens to go very well with red meats.

 My favorite way to eat a cauliflower mushroom is to simmer it in some venison or duck broth, then serve it in some more broth as a sort of consommé. It is divine, and a great way to linger over this very special shroom.
Sparassis, cauliflower mushroom soup in a bowl
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Lang likes it with beef pot roast, but he also pickles them. A lot of people will sauté them like any other mushroom, but I think they need some time to cook properly. (If you get more than you can eat in a few days, my advice is to cook them first, then freeze.)

Looking for more info about finding and cooking wild mushrooms? I have a huge selection of mushroom recipes here.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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102 Comments

  1. 5DEC2021 My son found one that is approximately 5-7 lbs while we were x-mas tree hunting in the Skokomish river area. I did not know the species, but have seen enough mushroom pics of people carrying them out like they just found a gold nugget, so we cut it a the base and liberated it from a the forest. It is cut into thick pieces and dehydrating for later use.

    The plan is to fry up like crunchy ramen or use in soup.

      1. in the beaumont area? im a chef in the hill country but originally from beaumont. ive never seen them down there.

  2. Found my very first one today at Salt Point State Park, CA on Oct 30th. Thank you for the description and meal ideas as I didnt know much about it.

  3. Found a big one today … I’m in British Columbia, Canada. I didn’t haul it out but now that I know what it is, I will next time !

  4. I found a 9 pounder today in SW Washington. I’ve cleaned and went to preserve by freezing. You mention cooking before freezing. How would you recommend it be cooked? Dry saute? Or cook in butter or just blanche and freeze? What would you recommend?

    1. Bill: I would dry sauté and then add some oil and salt. So when you want to eat them later, it will be heat and eat. You could blanch, too.

  5. October 9, 2021/found one today near Shelton, Wa. big as a beach ball, wouldn’t fit in deep sink, cut up and placed in cold salt water to dislodge any bugs which these are prone to get if too old, this one is fine. Will clean and can tomorrow. Don’t forget spaghetti sauce. Wish I knew how to post a picture.

  6. What a beautiful looking mushroom. It reminds me of an underwater coral. My husband found a 1lb one in the forest today here on the Sunshine Coast area of BC. He’s new to mushroom foraging and came across it when looking for Chantrelles. Thx for the recipes & freezing instructions.

  7. I found one today on the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington. It weighs 2 pounds and smells great. I have never seen a cauliflower mushroom come back again. The last one I found was several years ago. It was located right in the middle of a trail on our place that we walk on fairly often, so I know it never came back. Thanks for the cooking ideas. I think I’ll use half with a roast and half for a soup. Definitely one of my favorites.

    1. Joannie,
      I found one on Friday in the Skykomish Valley. About the same size. I found it in areas where I normally pick chanterelles and have only seen one other Sparassis in that area in 30 years of picking. A pleasant surprise.

      1. Great article. Thanks Hank! Found one today in the Chuckanut Mountains. Only 10.5 ounces but I’m thrilled, as it’s my first. Along with some oysters and admirable boletes. Skunked for chanterelles sadly. Gonna make the soup. Can’t wait!

  8. This year has seen a ton of different mushroom types I never see start popping up all over my yard. I Found what appears to be one of these Cauliflower mushrooms today, and I would really like to try cooking it, but not knowing for sure what it is, I’m kinda scared to try it.

    Here’s a picture of the larger of the two (this one is about the size of a big head of cauliflower) that are growing out there right now:
    https://imgur.com/a/tAdkuzR

    1. Gourmet NE Special under $5.00

      I slow cooked a few pounds of Queen of the Woods with a front quarter shoulder roast of White Tail Deer.

      Start with an olive oil rub with assorted spices and then braise the roast in a medium to high hot cast iron pan. Into the casserole dish with a cover. Add one medium sliced onion, one cup of chicken broth, one cup of wine(chef’s choice), as much cleaned and sliced cauliflower mushroom as can fit in the pan, kosher salt, mill ground black pepper, and assorted spices(chef’s choice).
      Add 4 large carrots with one hour of cooking time remaining.
      Slow cook at 300^ for 3.5 – 4 hours. Baste every 30 minutes with liquid in bottom of covered baking pan. Add water if needed.
      Meat will fall off the bone into small chunks. The mushroom remains crunchy and flavorful.
      Add rue a tablespoon at the time to thicken broth to a gravy if desired.
      Serve with fresh garden kale and grape tomato side salad.
      A true New England fall classic meal on a shoestring budget.

    2. I’m in East Texas. I found one several years ago in my flower bed. Pulled it up before I read about it. Cut the base off and put it back. Had another the following year. This year I have three! They are hard to clean, but worth it.

  9. Can these mushrooms be transplanted? A friend has one he wants to destroy and I have a 1/2 acre wooded backyard.

  10. GA mountains– We have lived here for 2 years & this is the 1st year we found one. It appears to be a cluster of 3. Now that I know it is edible, I cannot wait to harvest it. Plan to fry as we did Morels in IN, dip in egg & then in soda cracker
    crumbs.

    1. My son found our first cauliflower mushroom today (8/16/20) while setting up his deer cameras with his father. In Montague Massachusetts!!! I’m going to make a mushroom soup!

  11. just bought sparra inoculants from lithuainia, little grey balls not sure what they are. Live in Missouri. My usual spawn mix is bird seed, rice and cracked corn then birch dowels. Then can I put dowels in Elm or oak logs and should I bury them or leave above ground?

    1. Found our first cauliflower mushroom in our community in North Georgia. Can’t wait to cook it.

      1. I found a big one on a pedestrian trail in the middle of Atlanta. It’s definitely mature and full of tiny flies, wish I had found it sooner. Would you still try and harvest some of it or just mark it and look at it next year?

  12. Found my first! I thought it was a brain shroom but it looked like egg noodles close up! Can’t wait to cook it!
    R.Agnew in the great Pacific North West!

  13. Found my first yesterday. I made Razor Clam Picata with it and a few hedgehog mushrooms. Excellent! Thanks for the cleaning tips.

  14. Trying the broth method tomorrow! In the past I have just fried them, and was not that happy. Thank you so much for your broth recipe, I have chanterelle mushroom broth, regretfully no venison Broth. But I think it should be good will let you know