Recipes

Heavenly Hen of the Woods with Roasted Chicken

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.  

Maitake is best sautéed in a heavy cast iron pan with garlic, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

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.

Hen of the woods featured in a heavenly gravy paired with a roasted chicken makes for a perfect fall feast.

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! 

The Magnificent Matsutake

Our exquisite grade A matsutake!

As I scoured the woods in a last ditch attempt to find a hen before the looming frost, I grew increasingly hopeless with each step on the raw ground. After a dry, underwhelming season, the soil was finally saturated after a week of relentless rain. If the soaking rains had come at any point throughout the summer or early fall, the woods would have been teeming with fungal diversity.

Unfortunately, the prime window for mushroom flushes has already passed. Even the hardiest fall fruiters like hen-of-the-woods are on their last legs up here in Vermont, but there are still a few treasure troves waiting to be revealed to the persistent forager.  This has lent a mounting sense of urgency to my recent forays as I struggle to harvest the first proper flush of the year before it disappears into the grip of winter.

And so, there I was, still without a single hen, my socks wet and my toes starting to tingle. I spotted a promising elder statesman oak tree and I perked up with anticipation but, as has been my luck this season, it was barren. Soon the deciduous forest gave way to a dense hemlock grove, which I knew would not support hens. I considered calling it a day but I couldn’t bear returning home defeated, so I trudged on. Perhaps I would spot a few late season porcini, or at least some second rate honey mushrooms.

Sure enough, as soon I entered the dark stand of conifers, I spotted a hefty bouquet of honeys. Honeys are not bad, but I was in no mood for such pedestrian diversions. Frost was in the forecast, and if I wasn’t going to find any hens, I was determined to bring home a few more porcini before I threw up the white flag for the season. I left the honeys and figured I would harvest them on my way out if I didn’t discover any more gourmet offerings.

As the hemlock woods grew deeper and darker, the trail came out along a lazy river. Nestled in some moss among the hemlock needles, I noticed a colossal white mushroom. I had already seen quite a few acrid white Lactarius piperatus in these woods, and I assumed this was just another lousy Lactarius that could only be redeemed by the parasitic lobster mushroom. But it is too late for lobsters, so I motioned to my dog to march forward on the path as a cold breeze slapped me in the face.

This was no typical breeze – it carried the most singular and potent earthy perfume. I wondered about the source of this olfactory overload, and then I took another look at the big white mushroom that I had so hastily written off. I picked it up and took a whiff, and my nostrils began to dance. Cinnamon! Cloves! Clams! Grandma’s musty attic!

Although I had never seen them in the wild or even in the supermarket, I immediately knew what I was dealing with. These could be none other than the magnificent matsutake, so revered in Japan that a single grade A specimen with veil intact can fetch upwards of $100. The Japanese make special wooden gift boxes that hold a few prized buttons, and these are considered a corporate or wedding gift par excellence. Trichloma magnivelare, the northeastern species, is considered very close genetically to the true Japanese matsutake.

An instagram shot of part of our grilled matsutake feast!

After I spent several minutes just inhaling the transcendent aroma of the massive grade B specimen, I searched the rest of the riverbank and was delighted to find that the mastutake was not alone. I found about fifteen in all, including one grade A, unopened specimen that weighed in at over half a pound.

The Japanese will pay a drastically higher price for grade A specimens with an unbroken veil, but at this stage they are usually well concealed by the duff. I was lucky enough to find several pristine buttons that were just barely popping out above the carpet of hemlock needles, and I carefully poked my finger in to pry out the partially buried stems. I left about half of the matsutake in the ground and proudly marched home, past the honey mushrooms, which now looked utterly irrelevant.

Last night we grilled them up and prepared them simply with a dash of soy sauce and lemon juice. The result? Epicurean bliss. 

Chaga: From Tree to Tea

A freshly harvested chaga sclerotium

My chaga eyes are on, and I am having trouble turning them off. Despite the disconcertingly warm winter, Northern Vermont still has powder stashes if you know where to look (if there’s one thing mushroom foragers and skiers have in common, it’s that we don’t disclose the locations of our coveted patches). 

I used to think of backcountry skiing as a way to get myself through the winter foraging dry spell, but now it is becoming a way to keep my foraging fever alive in the winter! Incidentally, sailing through the winter woods on skis is a great way to access remote terrain and find enough chaga (Inonutus obliquus) to cure a classroom of sniffly kindergarteners.

Now that my pantry is stocked with several mason jars of dried chaga, I am doing my best to resist the urge to harvest more. I intentionally left my chaga harvesting tool at home this morning when I set out for a ski, to ensure that I don’t wind up with a life time’s supply of chaga. Sure enough, I spotted several beautiful chaga sclerotia on yellow and paper birch throughout the ski, which I proudly pointed out to Jenna before skiing on.

Without a hatchet to harvest my finds or a camera to document them, I found a certain satisfaction in having a partner to share in the revelry each time my gaze fell upon another snow-capped sclerotium. Somehow, the thrill of discovery just never gets old.

Ari harvests chaga during a recent ski

I even found one sizable chaga sclerotium cohabitating a beech tree with another medicinal mushroom – the tinder conk. While I had read that chaga occasionally grows on alder, elm, hornbeam, and beech, this was the first specimen I had ever seen not growing on a birch tree. Further research is needed to determine whether chaga found on these other hosts has equal medicinal value to chaga on birch. Chaga growing on other hardwoods would likely have a different medicinal makeup, since some of chaga’s medicinal properties are derived from concentrating betulin and betulinic acid naturally occurring in the birch host.

Thank you to all the readers who commented on my recent post, “Chaga: A Remedy for Winter.” Your stories of chaga’s healing power are inspiring – who knew that our beloved feline and canine companions could also enjoy the flavor and medicinal properties of chaga?

Grated chaga ready to be simmered

Some of you asked for a recipe, and I don’t blame you – it’s not as if you can just take a chomp out of a raw, charred looking sclerotium. My favorite way to enjoy chaga is as a tea, since the heady flavor seems to contain the very essence of the forest. I find a cheese grater is very effective at breaking dried chaga into a coarse powder (just watch your fingers!). Let three tablespoons of ground chaga lightly simmer in two quarts of water for at least 20 minutes. You can reuse the strained grounds by adding more water and simmering for an additional 20 to 30 minutes.  Sometimes I’ll simmer as many as eight tablespoons of ground chaga in two quarts of water, creating a strong concentrate that I refrigerate and dilute before heating up to enjoy as tea throughout the week. 

While a decoction (tea) has powerful immune system boosting and antitumor properties, a double extraction tincture is the best way to extract the full range of water-soluble and alcohol-soluble components. Start by steeping ground chaga in 80 proof or stronger alcohol for three weeks. Then, use a cheesecloth to strain the infused alcohol out of the chaga pieces before simmering them in a small volume of water for 25 minutes.

Mix this decoction with the infused alcohol, and voila – you have a double extraction tincture. It should keep for a few years, provided the final tincture is at least 25% alcohol by volume. If you are mathematically inclined, this should be easy enough to calculate. If not, just start with at least 100 proof (50%) alcohol and mix in a very small volume of boiled down decoction to err on the side of caution. Check out Greg Marley’s Mushrooms for Health for a thorough description of the double extraction tincture process – this technique is also optimal for many other medicinal mushrooms.

Enjoy your home-brewed myco-medicine. Cheers!

Salmon with Porcini and Herb Butter

Salmon with porcini and herb butter!

From our motherload of gourmet wild mushrooms to the cornucopia of produce at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market, Ari and I have been eating very well this harvest season. However, one shortage that Ithaca does have is access to good quality fish. Since one of my last names is DiMare, meaning “of the sea,” it’s no surprise that my father grew up working on T-Wharf in Boston alongside my grandfather at DiMare Lobster Company. Coming from a lineage of fishermen and lobstermen, it is also no surprise that I grew up eating fish, and a lot of it. 

So, when I first moved to landlocked Ithaca, I felt like a fish out of water as I stared at the unsavory looking filets, some “color enhanced,” in the Wegmans fish case. Then I learned of the lure of the “fish truck.” At first I didn’t believe it – two men really make the epic journey from Maine to Ithaca every Friday morning from March to Dec. 31 just to unload a truck of fish? While I don’t’ know the details of their operation, this does seem to be the case, and their seafood is the real deal. Every Friday morning in the parking lot of the Triphammer Mall you can find the “fish truck,” typically with quite the crowd of loyal fish fans standing patiently in line.

I have become one of them. A few Fridays ago, I was craving seafood and so Ari and I woke up bright and early and ventured to the fabled “fish truck.” With adjectives like “superb today” and “excellent today” associated with almost every offering listed on the truck’s dry erase board menu, I became overwhelmed by the decision making process. Needless to say, I obsessed for the whole 15 minutes or so while I waited in line. Shrimp? Haddock? Maybe Swordfish? Scallops? Right up to the last minute I couldn’t decide what I wanted, and so we ended up getting rainbow trout for Ari and salmon for me.

An Ithaca porcini!

With a grocery bag filled with freshly harvested porcini waiting for me at home, I eagerly anticipated our dinner. I pan seared Ari’s whole rainbow trout and baked my salmon filet, topping both with porcini and homemade herb butter before serving with a side of mixed heirloom beans. Amazing!

Serves 2

Preparing the HERB BUTTER:

INGREDIENTS:

  •   3 tablespoons of butter, softened
  • ¼ cup chopped herbs (ie. sage, chives, basil, parsley)
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • Cracked pepper and salt to taste 

DIRECTIONS:

  • Stir together all ingredients in a small bowl, and mix well.

Preparing the SALMON: 

INGREDIENTS:

  • Salmon (12-14 oz) fillet, cut into 6 to 7 oz. pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • Freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Oil a baking dish with the olive oil and then place the salmon in it. Squeeze the lemon juice and spoon the white wine over the salmon. Season the salmon with freshly cracked black pepper and salt to taste.
  3. Roast the salmon for about 10 to 12 minutes. 

Preparing the PORCINI:

INGREDIENTS:

  • Porcini (fresh – 4 oz)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Fresh herbs to taste (I used chives and sage)
  • Cracked pepper and salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  • In a medium sauce-pan or cast iron pan, saute your garlic in butter for about 2-3 minutes over a medium heat. Add the cleaned and sliced porcinis, and saute, stirring frequently, for about 5-8 minutes.

Once the salmon is done, top with sautéed porcinis and a generous dollop of herb butter. Garnish with fresh herbs and enjoy. Mangia! 

Ari's pan-seared trout!

Wild Mushroom Tasting and Cream of Maitake Soup

The five mushrooms featured in the tasting are displayed in their uncooked state!

When the bounty is more than plentiful, it’s time to share. This past weekend we hosted a local foods potluck with a wild mushroom tasting featuring hen of the woods, black trumpets, smooth chanterelles, yellow foot chanterelles and lion’s mane. Guests arrived to find a spread on our dining room table with the five mushrooms, labeled, in their uncooked state. And then, out came the cooked mushrooms, hot off the cast iron pan.

All mushrooms were sautéed in a tad of olive oil and butter, with salt and pepper to taste. Once our 14 guests had sampled all five species, they voted for their favorite mushroom of this stellar seasonal selection. As the team of tasters sat eagerly awaiting the verdict, the votes were carefully tallied and the results announced: lion’s mane was the winner, beating out black trumpets by one vote. Every species received at least one vote; it was hard not to love any of them!

A hen of the woods found today at the base of a red oak.

A wonderful array of dishes featuring the local harvest followed the mushroom tasting, including peppers stuffed with goat cheese and freekah from Cayuga Pure Organics and an incredible selection of delicious artisanal cheese made by a guest who is the manager at Fingerlakes Farmstead Cheese Company.  With our mother load of hen of the woods, I made a cream of maitake soup. I combined two pounds of maitake with potatoes, carrots, herbs, white wine and cream, before pureeing the ingredients into a silky bowl of hen of the woods heaven.

Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 lbs hen of the woods (maitake) mushroom
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 lb potatoes, chopped
  • 1 lb carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon thyme, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sage, minced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

DIRECTIONS:

1.) Thoroughly clean the hen of the woods. Dry and then break apart into small pieces.

2.) Place a heavy soup pot over a medium to high heat, and then add the olive oil and butter. Once the butter has melted, add the garlic and onion. Sauté for about three to five minutes, and then add the hen of the woods to the pot, as well as the salt and pepper. Stir and cook over a medium to high heat for about 10 minutes. Add the carrots and potatoes and sauté for another five minutes or so, stirring often.

3.) Add stock, bay leaves, thyme and sage to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.

4.) Remove the bay leaves and puree the soup until smooth. Add the white wine and lemon juice and simmer for another five minutes. Stir in the cream and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with your favorite herbs, and serve hot. Mangia!

Cream of maitake soup!

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