As many readers probably imagine, mushrooms are quite the common topic of conversation in our home. Ari and I often like to list our top five favorite wild mushrooms, and maitake (Grifola frondosa), or hen of the woods, consistently makes the cut. However, I always forget how much I love maitake until I experience my first bite of the season.
Ari’s desperate search for this season’s maitake finally ended this past weekend while we were visiting friends and family in the Pioneer Valley. Life suddenly feels a little safer – no more screeching brakes while driving because we just passed a mature oak that Ari insisted might have had a hen of the woods roosting at its base.
Prized in Japan and China for its medicinal and nutritional properties, it doesn’t surprise me that maitake is the mushroom that always leaves my body craving more. Hen of the woods is also one of the most versatile mushrooms in the kitchen. There seems to be almost nothing it does not pair well with – I adore it in omelettes, pasta, cream of maitake soup, or simply sautéed with a little salt and pepper. Still, there is nothing that beats what we ate for dinner tonight: a roasted chicken with hen of the woods.
Growing up, roasted chicken was a staple during the autumn months in my mother’s kitchen. Tonight’s chicken was roasted with herbs, white wine, homegrown Meyer lemons, apple cider, maple syrup and a dash of salt and pepper.
The maitake Ari found in downtown Northampton this past Saturday was young and dense. I ripped it apart (cleaning it thoroughly and making sure to remove any bugs nestled up in its folds) and sautéed it for 10 minutes with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in my favorite cast iron pan. Once the roasted chicken was done, I poured the roasting juices atop my sautéing maitake with a tad more white wine and apple cider and let the maitake simmer into a divine gravy of Grifola frondosa. Paired with roasted parsnips and all blue potatoes with roasted Seckel pears atop a mixed salad of late fall greens, gorgonzola and maple syrup-candied pecan, tonight’s dinner was certainly one of the most memorable of the year. As we let out sighs of delight throughout the meal, our pup Judah couldn’t help but linger nearby and incessantly lick his lips.
The maitake and roasted chicken pairing is absolutely phenomenal and bound to impress. If you’re lucky enough to have a surplus of hen of the woods this fall, consider preserving it via dehydration or freezing to pair with your Thanksgiving turkey!