We have a great neighbor, Greg. He maintains an incredible garden and generously shares his overflow of juicy and delicious vegetables throughout the summer. Today, he showed up on his ATV (we neighbors live a half mile or farther away from each other) with the back cargo space filled to the brim with wild mushrooms that he harvested off his land. Robert met him out front. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the bounty. Maitake or Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) grows at the base of oak trees. Greg’s land is heavily wooded, unlike ours. So, I am grateful for his generous spirit.
Greg handed over a large mushroom to Robert, and then pointed to the fifteen or so squirrels that he had also harvested. I would have considered it a compelling challenge to research and then cook up a squirrel. It’s a wild meat I had never eaten before, but am not opposed to it. After all, you never know how a solar flair, global pandemic or man-made event could interrupt our food chain. However, Robert declined the rodent. So, I focused on the fungus!
I was excited to learn how to prepare the Hen of the Woods delicacy. Robert relayed Greg’s suggestion to coat in seasoned flour and deep fry the mushrooms. I thought the recipes that described roasting to be more my style. There were two basic options; long and low at 300 F for about an hour and the option that I chose. It seemed more likely to produce good caramelization and required a 425 F oven for about 25 minutes.
During my quick exploration of internet know-how, I learned that wild mushrooms, especially one with many crevasses like the Maitake, often contain quite a bit of dirt and possibly even insects lurking in their folds. Some sources said to avoid rinsing in water as a means of cleaning the fungus. Yet, other sites stated that a quick soaking in salted water and then sufficient drying could result in a cleaner product. That’s what I chose to do. First, I ripped off about one quarter of the large mushroom. Even though it appeared free of conspicuous debris, I used a large bowl of water to assist in removal of less obvious dregs.
Hand shredding was advised in most of the recipes I reviewed. I followed those directions and tore the cleaned quarter into bite-sized pieces.
Most often the recipes I read suggested coating the mushroom pieces in olive oil and a combination of garlic, thyme and salt. Some included oregano and / or shallots or even diced onion. I went with sea salt, garlic powder and dried thyme for my first attempt at roasting the mushroom.
I mixed the dry ingredients into the olive oil, then added the shredded pieces of mushroom and gave it a good toss.
I spread the mushroom pieces in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet and put it into a pre-heated 425 F oven. Midway to 25 minutes, I tossed the pieces to keep them from sticking.
Finally, I had to decide when to remove the pan from the oven. I tasted a piece at the 25 minutes point, and found it to be a bit crunchy on the edges and chewy on the inside. I chose to give it an additional 5 minutes.
The results were truly delicious. Most pieces were crunchy almost all the way through. The larger pieces had a bit more chew in the center. Every piece was very flavorful and while Robert and I at them as a stand-alone snack, I could see them as a great topper to a burger or as a compliment to a charcuterie type spread.
Thank-you, Greg! I look forward to possibly pan/skillet frying the next batch.
I’m no Spring-chicken. But, I relish the opportunity to try new things – and a “Hen of the Woods” was a wonderful way to keep this old bird spry. It’s fun to learn, especially when the endeavor ends up with such a delectable treat!