Tag Archives: hen of the woods

Chicks of the Woods

This year's haul of young, tender Hens of the Woods

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!

One of the Hens I gathered last year. It's more mature, and the lobes have flattened out, and are no longer rounded and plump.

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.




The first find.

hen of the woods miatake

I keep my beloved retired horse at a farm that’s ringed with oak forests.  One summer day, as I was paying my steed a visit, I looked off into the woods, and thought “mushrooms.”

The summer before, a friend of mine had found a good size hen of the woods.  She showed it to me, and I convinced her to let me make a wild mushroom lasagna with it.  The dish was a hit.   I tried to remember exactly when that had transpired, but I wasn’t able to recall when she found that mushroom.  I did remember that it was cool, however.

At home, I consulted Google, and ordered “Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois” from Amazon.  Happily, I learned that the season for Hens wasn’t yet upon us.    I had a few weeks to wait.

The following weekend, when I went to check in on my horse, I took a walk through the woods.  I noted dead and dying trees.  My pulse quickened.  I also saw a lot of nettles, burrs and poison ivy.  Ugh.

The next few weeks were dry, and hot.  Not a single fungus was to be seen, aside from a lichen here and there.  I continued sallying forth, teaching my eyes to distinguish patterns on the forest floor, and to pick out lichens.

And then it rained.

I eagerly headed out, and found a gorgeous reward – a big, beautiful Hen of the Woods (also called maitake, or by its Latin name, Grifola Frodosa.) Reverently, I kneeled down, felt underneath it, and pulled it free.  I strutted out of the wood with my prize, and went home to make a mushroom lasagne. (Cheesy, no tomato, just some spinach and ricotta filling, napped with bechamel and Parmesan.)

And that was just the beginning.