HEN OF THE WOODS (Grifola Frondosa)

Dense, slightly spongy and springy, earthy; eating hen of the woods mushrooms brings a rustic and wholesome feel to my meal. 

maitakemushroomsIs it the name? Is it that I’ve rambled the forest in search of them? Either way, they are a ‘romantic’ addition to my urban breakfast. Hen of the woods are also called Ram’s Head mushrooms, however, you may also know them as Maitakes.

I am only just this past year or two beginning to appreciate the world of fungi. Prior to now, I have shunned any and all mushrooms regardless of accompanying ingredients, unless as a medicinal intervention in which case, I would plug my nose and just quickly down the ingredients. However, I like to believe that my palate is ‘growing up’ and maturing, allowing me to branch out and try things I would not have tried in the past. I’ve learned that mushrooms when prepared ‘right’ are actually quite delicious and that I do, in fact, enjoy them or at least certain kinds of them when prepared well.

Hen of the woods (maitake) are well known in Asian cuisine and even more so in Traditional Asian Medicine. From a culinary perspective, they are a treat. Their texture lends well to pan or oven roasting, which is how I prepared them. They can be added to soups, stews, pastas, really anywhere that your creativity leads you. I love the shape of them so find preparing them as close to whole as possible the best option, just because they are so aesthetically pleasing.

henofthewoodsroastedFrom a health perspective, maitakes are an amazing resource for good stuff, much like their fungi relatives. They are a great source of vitamins like B and D as well as minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. They also have an abundance of phytonutrients making them extremely useful in boosting immune function and regulating blood glucose levels. Research has demonstrated that the chemical compounds in Hen of the woods help stimulate not only the ‘innate’ immune function but also adaptive immune function; helping to boost natural killer cells in order to force mutated cells to self destruct while also fortifying surrounding healthy cells to inhibit further mutation. Other studies have shown that the compounds in Maitake help to regulate insulin production, exhibiting a hypoglycemic effect and decreasing blood sugar, making them a potential benefit for management of diabetes.

Caution: Hen of the woods should not be confused with Chicken of the woods, which is a similar in appearance but has very different properties. I would never recommend searching these things out without expert advice...unless you are searching them out on an urban foraging expedition to your local market. 

Once you secure the read deal, here's a yummy way to prepare them: 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of maitake mushrooms
  • 5 sprigs thyme, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • flaked sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • black pepper

Directions

Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 C). If you have a convection oven, use the convection mode.

Trim any tough bits of stem or growing medium off the bottom and then shred the mushrooms into small clusters. Put them in a bowl and toss with the olive oil and thyme.

Line the clusters up in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast until the mushrooms are golden brown and crisp around the edges (50-60 minutes).

Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.