Shroom hunter hits the mother lode in Riverhead, Cutchogue

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Chef Arie Pavlou and Sommelier Dianne Delaney with a portion of the 105 pounds of found wild oyster mushroom.

Arie Pavlou said he looks just like Little Red Riding Hood when he goes mushroom hunting in the woods of the North Fork. He’ll wear a big jacket and carry a woven basket with the top open so his captured mushrooms are exposed to air.

He does differ from the fairytale character in at least one respect.

“I don’t skip in the woods,” he joked.

Mr. Pavlou, the executive chef at Comtesse Therese Bistro in Aquebogue, has been hunting for mushrooms since he was 5 years old and living in Cyprus. He and his friends would head into the woods two to three days after rainfall, when mushrooms were most likely to be popping up out of the ground and emerging from tree trunks.

Using knives to cut mushrooms at the stems, Mr. Pavlou has been harvesting different mushroom species and cooking up the edible ones for as long as he can remember.

Mr. Pavlou was roaming through the woods, woven basket in hand, in Riverhead and Cutchogue last week and came home with a mushroom hunter’s dream discovery: 105 pounds of wild oyster mushrooms. He found the majority of it in Riverhead and the rest in Cutchogue.

Wild oyster mushrooms aren’t rare finds on the East End by any stretch — Mr. Pavlou and fellow hunters happen upon the species at least once a season. But Mr. Pavlou and other Long Island hunters had never encountered such a large amount.

He immediately called Margaret and Joel Horman, 20-year members of the Long Island Mycological Club who live in Ridge, to confirm his finding.

“They got really excited,” Mr. Pavlou said. “They said oh, it’s a perfect specimen.’”

ARIE PAVLOU PHOTO | A picture Chef Arie Pavlou snapped of wild mushrooms growing on a tree.

Mr. Horman said he and his wife, both experienced mushroom hunters, were able to identify the mushrooms without using a microscope or chemicals, which is sometimes required with more obscure species.

“That’s one of the easier species to identify,” Mr. Horman said. “We had never seen such a large collection. It was really overwhelming.”

Upon confirmation that the mushrooms were edible, Mr. Pavlou immediately brought the bounty into his kitchen. He breaded and baked, he sautéed, he fried and he stewed to see which method worked best with the thick-textured mushrooms.

Dianne Delaney, sommelier at Comtesse Therese Bistro, paired the mushrooms, which are breaded and baked much like a veal cutlet, with Comtesse Therese Vineyard’s 2009 Russian Oak Chardonnay.

“The Chardonnay complimented the mushroom’s flavor and texture and really brought out the wild, mushroomy essence,” she said.

She said the tannins in red wines would be “too overpowering” and would mask with the subtle flavor of the mushroom.

“What you have is a gift from the gods of the woods and you want to appreciate exactly that: the earthiness, the texture, the flavor,” she said.

When the mushrooms are served as an accompaniment to steak and other red meat entrees, Ms. Delaney suggests serving it with Comtesse Therese Vineyard’s 2005 Chateau Reserve Merlot.

A favorite dish among the bistro’s staff was Brie En Croute, which involves sautéing and stewing the wild oyster mushrooms with cream and sage for four hours, and then folding the mushrooms and brie into a puff pastry to be baked.

To thank the Hormans for confirming his find, Mr. Pavlou gave them 20 pounds of his wild oyster mushrooms, which are named as such because their tops look like oyster shells.

The Hormans gave Mr. Pavlou trumpet of death mushrooms —black, trumpet-shaped mushrooms — in return.

Mushroom trading, Mr. Pavlou said, is a common courtesy.

“That’s what you do in the mushroom world,” he said.

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