maitake-mushroom-cooking

Fungus Among Us

October 4, 2013

Maitake Mushroom (Grifola Frondosa)

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A friend of mine, Caroline, has been foraging for mushrooms in the woods of Maine for over two years now. Chanterelle, Lobster mushroom, Chicken of the Woods, Morel, and Oyster mushrooms are just a few of the assortment of delicious hidden forest treasures she finds. She recently stumbled upon a large cluster of Maitake, or “Hen of the Woods”. I had heard of the Maitake mushroom before, and associated it with Japanese cuisine, but had never had the opportunity to cook with it. Naturally, I was intrigued and interested in obtaining some of that mushroom. Caroline typically sells her mushrooms to local restaurants in Hallowell, Maine. She was willing to  sell the Maitakes to me at $10/pound, which I found quite reasonable. Once I had arranged a meeting to buy some mushrooms from her, I then did my research on the Maitake mushroom. What I found was very interesting.

It turns out that the Maitake mushroom is not only used in Japanese cuisine, it is prized in Chinese and Japanese herbology as a medicinal mushroom. According to their culture, the Maitake helps to aid the body in balancing out altered body states a normal level. Researchers have also indicated that whole maitake has the ability to regulate blood pressure, glucose, insulin, and both serum and liver lipids, such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids, and may also be useful for weight loss. As if all that wasn’t enough, Maitake is rich in minerals (such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium), various vitamins (B2, D2 and niacin), fibers and amino acids.

Phew! That was a lot of big words! I guess the bottom line is, it really can’t hurt to try this mushroom. So then the conundrum of what to make with the Maitake hit me. I’ve never worked with this mushroom before! What do I do with it?? Due to it’s popularity in Asian cuisine, my first instinct was to create something Asian-inspired. Then my friend, Andy, gave me the idea to make ravioli with it too. My first reaction was “I don’t want to have to make pasta dough…”. I mean, let’s be honest, it can be a bit of a pain, and with two small kids running around, the concept of kneading my own pasta dough, rolling it out paper thin by hand (no machine), and then cutting them all to the right size was more than daunting. Then Andy reminded me of my little trick for making quick ravioli. A while back, I had made a butternut squash ravioli for him and had cheated and used wonton wrappers.

So it was then decided that I will make Maitake mushrooms two ways. First up, I will make a hot and sour soup with Maitake and chicken http://mysaltykitchen.com/recipe/hot-and-sour-soup-with-chicken-and-maitake-mushroom/. Following that, I will make a goat cheese and Maitake ravioli with a sage browned butter sauce http://mysaltykitchen.com/recipe/mushroom-and-goat-cheese-ravioli-with-browned-sage-butter/. It is very exciting to be inspired by seasonal produce. The Maitake fruits anytime from early September to late October and seems to be triggered by the first cold nights of the end of Summer, which means that this is the peak season where I live in Maine. As the mushrooming season comes to a close, one last treat awaits the forager. And it’s a large one at that, often weighing up to 50 pounds! The largest one Caroline found this time was 30 pounds! I always thought it was so cool that Caroline went out into the woods in search of mushrooms and I am very much looking forward to using her spoils to create two new dishes. Stay tuned for the recipes!

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