Secret Ingredient: Hen-of-the-Woods, or Maitake Mushrooms


For months now, the mushroom guy at the Prospect Park Farmer’s Market has been telling me that he was growing maitakes, also known as hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. Every week he brought his excellent shitakes and oyster mushrooms, occasionally nice big portobellos, but the maitakes never arrived. I had all but given up hope, until just a couple of weeks ago when they were finally ready for market.

Maitakes have a delicate, meaty texture, and after you trim the base you can pull the mushroom apart in long, stringy bits. Regular readers of this blog (are there any?) will remember that I prepared some oyster mushrooms from a Marco Canora recipe that was originally intended for hen-of-the-woods, and since now I had the right mushrooms I figured I would make it again. I cooked the trimmed mushrooms in olive oil over medium heat, seasoned with salt and pepper. After they got brown and crispy on one side, I flipped them, seasoned the second side, and added shallots and thyme to the pan. I spooned a bit of the hot oil over the top side as it cooked (a technique called nape by fancy cooks). When the second side was cooked I plated it on a bed of polenta and garnished with some fresh thyme and a splash of olive oil.

roasted.jpgrisotto.jpg

With the remaining maitakes I made a two mushroom risotto. Risotto is both easy to make and delicious, and it adapts to just about any ingredient you have. For this version, I sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil, and then added some thinly sliced shitakes. When the mushrooms were browned, I seasoned everything and then added arborio rice. After cooking the rice for a few minutes, I added a splash of white wine, and let that evaporate. Then I added to some vegetarian broth (warming on another burner) a little at a time. I kept adding broth as it was absorbed. About three quarters of the way though the cooking process I added some hand-shredded maitakes (you should add them late in the cooking process so that they maintain their shape and texture), and then continued adding broth as it was absorbed. At the end of the process I added a handful of parmesan, some fresh thyme, and some olive oil.

Posted by Howard

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