The porcini of the Southern Cone. An endemic Chilean mushroom that can weigh up to 5 kg.
Sometimes growing to the size of a human head, the loyo, the famed South American mushroom found from Chile’s central Andes in the Maule region, passing through Biobío, Araucanía and Los Ríos to the northern tip of Patagonia in Los Lagos. It is one of those rare flavors that lingers in my heart and brain far longer than I expect whenever I encounter it, often calling me back to this isolated country during its short season.
Loyos only appears for a month or two each year, starting in early autumn, in late March or so. They are found growing alongside endemic trees like the Hualle (Nothofagus obliqua), Arrayan (Luma apiculata) and Avellano (Gevuina avellana), pieces of the great Valdivian temperate rainforests that are gradually disappearing. Loyos are of the Boletus family and are easily spotted with their large size and bright colors, coming dressed in a purple-red cap and bright yellow stalk.
Southern Chile is a hotbed of fungal activity, representing a vast repertoire of endemic species, such as the white pocked golf ball size digüeñe (Cyttaria espinosae), coral-shaped changles (Ramaria flava), and various morels. Aside of habitat loss and the threat of hydroelectric dams, over harvesting of loyos is a continual concern, so an education effort has helped educate and elevate responsible foragers and allowed their continued use in restaurants throughout central and southern Chile on a small scale.
The mushrooms have long held cultural significance throughout southern Chile. The Mapuche have long embraced this wonderous mushroom, often cooking them al rescoldo, directly over the burning embers of a fire, just as they do with certain breads like tortillas al rescoldo.
Like porcini, loyos are perfectly fine cooked as simply possible, such as sliced and sauteed in butter. During their much prized season in Chile, preparations are abundant. They’re often stewed, fried or used in soups or sauces with wild fruits. They have a sweet, delicate taste as far as mushrooms go, so its not uncommon to see them appear in cakes and other desserts.
On a recent trip to Santiago, the loyo just started to appear on restaurant menus. At Pulpería Santa Elvira, Javier Avilés Lira, re-imagines a classic Chilean dish with loyos.
“In Chile there is a dish called lomo a lo pobre and my idea was to reinterpret it with the mushrooms of the Bío Bío that have a short season,” he says.
So, rather than beef tenderloin and a fried egg and fried potatoes, he pairs loyos with a cured egg yolk, potato paper, onion foam and lacto-fermented beet leaves from his beautifully stocked pantry.
At Demencia Restobar, Benjamin Nast prepares them with bonito for a tartar. He slices them thinly, almost like a tiradito, and they’re served in a light broth.
I didn’t catch Rodolfo Guzmán using them at Boragó this time around, as the first of the season had just found its way to the lab when I was there. Though he uses them often, as you can read in his book from Phaidon, where he hangs them over open fires to roast them at low temperatures. He’ll also stuff them with cheese and grill them, as well as will use them for a dessert on the upcoming autumn menu.
“By far the most delicious way is cooking it on a seaweed bladder,” he says. In this technique, the loyo is steamed inside the spongey interior of kollof (Durvillaea antarctica), a large kelp found on the coasts of Chile and New Zealand.
“We add some native plants and citrus and that’s it,” says Guzmán. “The seaweed releases juices, as does the loyo. The result is a work of art.”