Maitake, or hen of the woods, mushrooms grow at the base of oak trees and are prized for their wide range of culinary uses. In the wild, maitake grow quite large -- up to three feet in diameter -- but those found in grocery stores are usually smaller. Their flavor is comparable to roasted chicken with a nutty undertone, and their texture represents a balance between the meatiness of portabello or shiitake and the feathery delicacy of oyster mushrooms.
Cleaning and Preparation
Look for mushrooms that are light gray or brown in color. The fronds should appear plump and firm, not withered or dry. Avoid maitake with signs of mold, blemishes or a slimy film.
Gently rinse maitakes in cold water and pat dry. Rather than chopping them, which would destroy their characteristic frond-like appearance, tear the mushrooms apart.
Maitake mushrooms are delicious raw, added to salads or dipped in soy sauce, but versatile enough to take on a variety of cooking methods.
Saute maitakes with diced onions and minced garlic in a mixture of butter and olive oil until soft. Serve this compote over steak or stir it into risotto.
Saute maitake mushrooms until soft, then add chicken broth and white or red wine vinegar. Simmer until the broth is reduced by half, then swirl in butter and herbs. Serve the sauce over chicken or fish.
Mushrooms add a depth of flavor and texture to soup broth. Start by sautéing the maitakes to bring out the complexities of their flavor, then simmer them in chicken, vegetable or beef broth. Add noodles, vegetables, tofu or other protein to round out the soup.
Dip maitakes in a tempura batter then deep-fry them. Season with sea salt and serve as an appetizer or snack. For a heartier meal, use a beer batter instead of tempura and serve the mushrooms as a side dish.
Mushrooms may not be the first vegetable you think of grilling, but grilled maitakes are simple and flavorful cooked over low flame. Drizzle them generously with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and cook themover indirect or low heat until they are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Serve with salsa verde or spicy mayonnaise.
Maitake mushrooms are at their best when they are fresh, but they can be stored for varying periods of time.
- Store fresh mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Avoid plastic, which does not allow the mushrooms to breathe.
- Sautéed maitakes can be frozen for up to a month. Let the mushrooms cool, then transfer them to a freezer bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible and lay it flat to freeze.
- Dried maitakes will keep for several years in an airtight container in a cool dark place. Slice or tear thin pieces of maitake, and lay the pieces on a baking sheet. Dry the mushrooms in the oven set to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 to 4 hours, turning and blotting up moisture after every hour, until they are completely dry.
Tricia Ballad is a writer, author and project geek. She has written several books including two novels, teaches classes on goal setting and project planning for writers, and loves to cook in her spare time. She is living proof that you can earn a living with a degree in creative writing.