If you are fortunate enough to stumble across a large, gray-brown or tan mushroom with clusters resembling cauliflower florets under the base of a very large and old oak tree, call me! It could be a hen of the woods!
Grifola frondos is a polypore mushroom that grows in clusters at the base of trees, in particular oak trees. Commonly called hen of the woods among English-speaking folks, it is also known as ram’s head and sheep’s head.
Native to China, North America and the northeastern part of Japan, the fungus is available in Asian markets as “maitake.” Prized in Asian cuisines because of its medicinal qualities, maitake mushrooms are now being cultivated here in Maine.
Research has shown this fungus is packed with antioxidants, combats diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. And best of all, maitake mushrooms add a boost to the immune system, just when the fall cold and flu season starts. Another great reason to eat local!
Health benefits aside, we love hen of the woods mushrooms because they taste good.
The flavors are earthy, meaty and spicy. During cooking, the fronds absorb even more flavor. We enjoy maitake sautéed in butter and garlic, or slathered with oil and herbs and grilled.
Once harvested, hen of the woods will store in the refrigerator for several weeks in a closed container. This year my foraging yielded six mushrooms weighing in at over 34 pounds.
With such a bounty, I’ve been trialing methods to preserve my hens to enjoy in the winter. Although drying is always an option, seasoning and roasting the shredded pieces in a 300-degree F oven was a big hit. The first time we gobbled up bowls of the crisp, brown nuggets as an appetizer.
Think of them like crispy onion rings, only better. Delicious on a burger, crunchy in a salad, tasty as a topping for a creamy mushroom soup, roasted hen of the woods or the cultivated variety maitake have no equal.