Beefsteak mushrooms (Fistulina hepatica) are a rare gourmet fungi with the color and consistency of red meat and a unique earthy-lemon flavor. In this article, you’ll learn how to find, identify, and eat beefsteak mushrooms!
Our family puts in quite a few hiking miles in any given week. When we’re in the woods, we’re observing and absorbing – trying our best to learn more about the remarkable diversity of species that comprise our Appalachian bioregion.
In any given summer, we log hundreds if not thousands of hiking miles. Where it’s legal to do so, we also collect edible and medicinal fungi on our hikes.
Some gourmet summer mushrooms like chanterelles and corrugated milk caps are incredibly common – we can fill a basket with them on a hike when they’re fruiting. However, we’re lucky if we see one or two beefsteak mushrooms in an entire summer/fall season.
Simply put, beefsteak mushrooms (Fistulina hepatica) are amongst the rarest warm weather edible mushroom species in our area. That’s too bad, because they’re also one of the most interesting mushrooms to use in the kitchen.
Having just found a perfect, young, tender beefsteak specimen, we’d like to take you on a deeper dive into the world of beefsteak mushrooms so you know how to find, identify, and eat them if you happen to stumble upon one (or two if you’re lucky)…
How to find and identify beefsteak mushrooms
Where they fruit
Beefsteak mushrooms can be found around the world in temperate forests of North America, Europe, Africa, and even Australia. Perhaps this is indicative of an ancient origin that predates the breakup of Pangea.
Beefsteaks are a parasitic species that infects sick or injured hardwood trees. We’ve only seen them on oak trees, but we’ve heard foragers report finding them on other tree species such as chestnuts.
In our experience, they’re always on the lower portion of the tree trunk within a few feet of the ground. You may also find them fruiting from the underground roots of infected trees.
Unlike other mushrooms, we never find large numbers of beefsteak mushrooms in the same spot. At best, we may see two to three mushrooms fruiting on a tree, but more often we only find a single mushroom.
When they fruit
Beefsteak mushrooms fruit in the warm months, from mid-summer to early fall in our area (Ag Zone 7b in Greenville, SC). The earliest we’ve found a beefsteak mushroom is July and the latest we’ve ever found one is early October.
Features for identification
Here are the key physical features you can use to identify beefsteak mushrooms:
Some types of mushrooms produce spores via gills (or false gills) on the underside of their fruiting bodies. However, beefsteak mushrooms are polypores (aka bracket fungi) who produce spores via thousands of tiny tubes on their underside.
The genus name, Fistulina, pays homage to this feature, translating roughly to “small tubes/fistules.”
As their common name indicates, beefsteak mushrooms resemble raw beef in both color and texture. They’re always redish in color, but their color deepens as they mature.
The top of the mushroom is rusty red in color and the underside/pore surface is lighter. When they’re very young, the underside can be creamy white in color. The pore surface bruises deep red when scraped.
When cut, the interior of a beefsteak mushroom is yellow-pink with red streaking. They also emit a liquid that stains red.
Beefsteak mushroom spores are pink-yellow in color. (It’s always a good idea to spore print a mushroom that’s new to you.)
Some bracket fungi like Reishis are so dense and fibrous they’re difficult to cut with a knife. However, beefsteak mushrooms are firm, yet tender. You should be able to easily cut a beefsteak mushroom with a knife.
The older they get, the tougher they get.
What do beefsteak mushrooms taste like?
No, beefsteak mushrooms don’t taste like beef. Instead, beefsteak mushrooms have two distinct flavor notes: a tangy citrus flavor combined with an earthy mushroom flavor.
Beefsteak mushrooms are the only mushroom species we’ve ever eaten that offers sour flavors. Perhaps they use acid compounds as a defense against certain insects and/or mollusks that dine on them — or perhaps they use these compounds to help break down lignin in the cells of their host trees. Or both.
Researchers found the most prevalent acids in beefsteak mushrooms to be ellagic acid and malic acid. The mushrooms also contain oxalic, aconitic, citric, ascorbic, and fumaric acids — quite a combination.
Are beefsteak mushrooms medicinal?
Like many other fungi, beefsteak mushrooms may also have unique medicinal properties, with one research paper citing its potential for “potent therapeutic use”. However, there doesn’t currently seem to be as much research on them as other more well-known medicinal mushroom species, perhaps owing to beefsteak’s relative scarcity in the wild.
When searching for traditional medicinal uses, we found it interesting that beefsteak mushrooms are used to treat viral fevers in Nepal, as reported by an ethnomedicinal survey conducted by Gorakhpur University.
Hopefully, more research will determine what — if any — medicinal benefits beefsteak mushrooms have.
How to eat beefsteak mushrooms
As a general rule, we always cook mushrooms in order to:
a) break down the lignin in the cell walls, making the nutrients within bioavailable, and
b) kill any potential pathogens and break down anti-nutrients.
However, there are exceptions to every rule… And young beefsteak mushrooms are the exception for us. Emphasis: young.
When beefsteak mushrooms are still young and tender enough to easily slice and dice with a knife, we like to finely dice them, then marinate them in lemon juice for about thirty minutes in the fridge before eating them. The lemon juice enhances the underlying mildly sour flavor of the mushroom while also killing potential pathogens and breaking down the lignin.
However, older, tougher beefsteak mushrooms are best sliced and cooked.
If you’ve never eaten beefsteak mushrooms before, only eat a small amount your first time (regardless of whether they’re raw or cooked) to make sure you don’t have any averse reactions. No, they’re NOT poisonous, but as with any mushroom or food, some people may have an allergic reaction or gastric upset. We offer this same word of advice in all our mushroom articles.
Making beefsteak mushroom tartare
Again, beefsteak mushrooms don’t taste like beef, but they do have a similar texture and color. Thus, we decided to turn our raw beefsteak mushroom into a beef tartare-inspired dish: Beefsteak mushroom tartare served over a toasted pine nut-coriander crumble with other garden-fresh ingredients.
We were beyond happy with the resulting flavors, and The Tyrant and I happily gobbled down every morsel. Here’s a quick summary of how we made this dish in case you want to replicate it with your own beefsteak mushroom:
1. Collect supplemental ingredients.
We wanted to jazz up this forest-to-table recipe with some supplemental garden-to-table ingredients. We used the following ingredients from our garden:
- coriander seeds (see Step 3 below)
- squash flowers – use male flowers so you don’t lose fruit (cooked and served on the side)
- cantaloupe flowers – use male flowers so you don’t lose fruit (used as a garnish)
- onion chives (diced and added to mushrooms)
- wood sorrel (sheep sorrel or garden sorrel would also do, since they all taste like lemon)
- basil flowers (from both purple basil and African blue basil plants)
- fennel (served on the side to add a bit of wispy texture and green color)
Almost all of these ingredients are optional, so don’t forego making the recipe if you don’t have them. You can simply add lemon juice, salt, diced onions, and pine nuts to a diced beefsteak mushroom and still have a great dish.
Step 2: Finely dice beefsteak mushroom, then marinate in the fridge.
Back inside: cut your beefsteak mushroom into the smallest pieces possible.
This will provide a better mouth feel and dining experience, plus it helps the added citrus juice/acid contact as much surface area on the mushroom as possible.
Put your diced mushrooms into a bowl, add lemon juice, stir, cover, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. (For reference, we used about 3/4 tablespoon of lemon juice for 1/2 cup of diced beefsteak mushroom.)
We didn’t add salt BEFORE putting them in the fridge because we’re not trying to draw water out of the mushrooms. Add a pinch of salt (or to taste) once you remove them from the fridge.
Step 3: Make toasted pine nut-coriander crumble.
In the summer, we always have pine nuts and/or walnuts around to make pesto. We also have loads of mature coriander seed out in the garden right now. Hmm…
We put pine nuts and coriander seeds in a skillet over medium low heat (3.5 on our stove) and heated them for about 3-5 minutes, turning them and moving them with a spatula to try to get an even toasting. We also tossed in a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt while they cooked.
Once toasted, we put the pine nuts and coriander seeds into a mortar and let them cool to room temperature for about 15 minutes. (We were concerned that using the pestle on hot pine nuts might make the oil separate, which was not our aim.)
Once cooled, we used the pestle to grind the pine nuts, coriander, and salt into a crumbly-paste consistency, which is used as the bed for the other ingredients when plated. The flavor combination was unreal. Definitely something we’ll make again.
As the pine nut-coriander mix is cooling, add about a tablespoon of butter or olive oil to the same pan and sauté your squash flowers.
Step 4: Combine ingredients and plate.
Make a bed of pine nut-coriander crumble on the plate.
Add diced onion chives and wood sorrel leaves to your diced mushrooms and stir. Pack them into a small, tight-fitting bowl. Use a flat kitchen tool like a dough scraper to turn the bowl upside down on, just over the plate. Remove scraper so the mushroom mix holds its form on top of the pine nut-coriander crumble.
Garnish plate with other ingredients and serve. There’s no single right way to eat it from here… You can mix all the ingredients together or eat them individually.
Regardless, be prepared for some out-of-this world delicious and unique flavor combinations. Now that you have an idea how to make beefsteak mushroom tartare, here’s the recipe:
Recipe: Beefsteak mushroom tartare over toasted pine nut-coriander crumble
Beefsteak mushroom tartare with toasted pine nut-coriander crumble
A uniquely delicious, forest- and garden-to-table dish featuring beefsteak mushrooms (Fistulina hepatica) served over a bed of toasted pine nut-coriander crumble.
- 1/2 cup finely diced beefsteak mushroom
- 3/4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1.5 tsp coriander seed
- 1 tsp finely diced onion chives
- 1 tbsp wood sorrel leaves
- basil flowers/leaves, melon flowers, squash flowers, fennel, other seasonal ingredients as-needed or as your garden or foraging excursions allow
- salt, to taste (add a pinch to pine nut-coriander crumble + pinch to diced mushrooms after they're removed from fridge)
- 1 tbsp butter or olive oil if you're sautéing squash flowers
Finely dice beefsteak mushroom and place in bowl. Add lemon juice, and stir until evenly coated. Cover and put in fridge for 30 minutes.
Toast pine nuts and coriander seeds with a pinch of salt over medium low heat for about 5 minutes or until just toasted (pine nuts lightly golden and coriander seeds highly fragrant). Put in pestle and let cool to room temp for 15 minutes. Once cool, grind into crumble/paste. (You can also use blender if you don't have mortar & pestle.) Spoon onto plate to form bed for other ingredients.
Remove mushrooms from fridge and mix in onion chives and sorrel leaves. Pack into small bowl, then turn upside down onto pine nut-coriander bed, maintaining the rounded shape of the bowl. Garnish and serve!
One final note: unlike most other warm weather mushrooms, beefsteak mushrooms store really well in your fridge without bruising or losing firmness. For best storage, put them in a ziplock bag with a lightly dampened cloth and place bag inside your veggie drawer.
We hope you learned more about beefsteak mushrooms and how to use them in your kitchen!
Other summer fungi guides w/ recipes you’ll love:
- Reishi mushrooms
- Chicken of the woods
- Corn smut (huitlacoche)
- Cauliflower mushrooms
- Umbrella polypores
- Bicolor boletes
- Corrugated milk-caps
- Indigo milk-caps
- Black trumpet mushroom pasta and black trumpet & smoked gouda quiche
… or browse other foraging articles from Tyrant Farms.