Last fall, I gathered several Hens of the Woods (grifola frondosa, also known as “maitake,”) and embarked on the cleaning, eating and preservation thereof.
The specimens I brought home were fresh, but they were also fairly fully mature. In lasagna and stir fries, they were very flavorful, exhibit the classic mushroomy-flavor of the species, but they were pretty chewy. However, one specimen was a bit younger, and it was much more tender. I learned my lesson. It’s best to pick Hens when they’re still chicks!
This year, I ended up with a nice haul of young and tender hens. Cleaning them is no picnic – their crevices (which are numerous) can harbor bugs, dirt, leaves and grit. I start by trimming the bottoms and then soaking them in a large bowl in weak salt water. Then I rinse them off, and pull them apart, continuing to rinse them. Then the detail work begins – using a vegetable brush and a paring knife, I clean the mushroom thoroughly. No one wants grit (or a beetle!) in their lasagna.
I preserve as much of the fat, meaty core as I can, if it’s tender. If it’s not tender, I simmer it (after cleaning) to make mushroom stock.
Once the hens were cleaned, I made myself an absolutely delicious omelette with smoked turkey, Swiss cheese and a couple handfuls of mushrooms. The rest were chopped finely and turned into duxelles, which I then froze for future use, or were simply frozen by putting large pieces in plastic bags (removing as much air as possible) and then freezing. Unlike most other mushrooms, Hens freeze well.
Important note: When using frozen, uncooked Hens, it’s important not to thaw them. They need to straight into the pan from the freezer. You can chop them up when they’re frozen pretty easily.