Monday, October 7, 2013

Hen of the Woods

Mushroom hunting is a practice best approached with caution, so I've only just added a second species to my foraging.  Number one was the morels that come up among the asparagus.  They are as unmistakable as they are delicious.

(click to embiggen)
The second is hen-of-the-woods, Grifola frondosa, called also the sheep's head or ram's head, known to Italian-Americans as the signorina mushroom, called maitake by the Asians.

I know the frilled clusters can be found in the woods beyond the stone wall.  In fact the only time we see anyone in this part of the woods is during mushroom season.   Since I'd just had a chance to handle examples at the recent mushroom festival, it was time to take a knife and a bag and go out foraging.  Not 50 feet from the property line I found the remains of one, nine-tenths cut away by another hunter.  I left it there to spread its spores.  It didn't take long before I found one of my own, right were it was supposed to be, at the base of a mature oak.  I followed the example of the other gatherer and left a tenth or so there.  On the way back, in the hollow of a dead oak, nearly back to our wall I found another one, smallish and dark, and with a rich, earthy smell.

I washed and tore up the larger one and sautéed it in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper.  It came out wonderfully, with a delicate flavor, and firm, varied texture.  I served it up with roasted garden potatoes and a beet, apple and onion dish that Monica taught me (which I fondly recalled from Almaty).  With a pint of Murphy's Irish Stout to wash it down.

hen of the woods fer eatin'