Lactarius indigo – YAY!!!
I’m spoiled. Simple fact. Being married to a whiz-bang mushroom hunter/expert mycologist, I get a lot of morels, chanterelles and porcini, to say nothing of sulfur shelf, hen of the woods and other well-known wild delights. All are deeply welcome, don’t get me wrong. But at this point in my mushroom career they aren’t thrillingly special.
Lactarius indigo, on the other hand, is an edible miracle so seldom found that when I run into them I just about fall on my knees and weep. It doesn’t seem fair that a single mushroom could be both mind-bendingly gorgeous and outstandingly delicious, but there you are. Life isn’t fair.
Like other edibles in the genus, L. indigo has a texture quite distinct from that of most other mushrooms: it’s crisp. Not crisp like a potato chip but crisp like a good apple. The flesh is dense enough to be toothsome, but it has none of the chewy quality that most “meaty” mushrooms have, and it never becomes flabby no matter how old it gets.
When raw, the blue milk mushroom is easy to break. Yet in spite of its apparent fragility it’s really quite sturdy. It can be cooked right on the grill, for instance, with no fear it will fall apart. And I’m sure it could be deep fried, too, although I’ve never tried that.
In fact, I find them so seldom I’ve never done anything but cook them as simply as possible, either oil-brushed on the grill or cut into more or less evenly thick slices, then slowly simmered in butter to extract maximum flavor. We eat them plain, too, usually straight out of the pan, though once or twice I’ve mixed them with pasta to stretch the nutty, slightly spicy flavor.
The color is realio trulio blue – not purple that’s pretending. It comes from a substance called Guaiazulene, which is in turn a component of an organic compound called, appropriately, Azulene.
L. indigo fades as it ages, frequently acquiring a bit of the green staining that also characterizes its opalescent orange relative, the not-too-accurately named L. deliciosa. In older specimens the milk is scant, though there is always enough to absolutely confirm the id.
The milk image above is used by permission from Mycologista (a nom-de-camera as well as nom-de-really-nifty-blog)
photo of L. indigo in the woods by Bill Bakaitis