Hen-Of-The-Woods Mushrooms and Wild Mushroom Stroganoff
My last few weeks, and the weeks to come are going to be all about wild mushrooms. We are having a perfect fall for the cooler-weather varieties, and one foraging trip is yielding what I normally collect during the entire season! Not only am I cooking with fresh mushrooms, but I'm also putting them up for winter to spring consumption.
This entry is all about the hen-of-the-woods mushroom (Grifola frondosa). (By the way, the Latin name means griffon feathers!) This is a popular fall mushrooms that has many common names: hen-of-the-woods, sheep's head, ram's head, and maitake. Its a clustered polypore (it has pores in stead of gills) that grows on the base to hard wood trees, most commonly oaks. Its an easy mushrooms to learn to identify,* but it is hard to spot. It looks so similar to a cluster of fallen oak leaves that they are often over looked. There are slight color variations, but typically the cluster, consisting of multiple grayish-brown caps, are often curled or spoon-shaped, with wavy margins. The underside of each cap bears a white surface with pores. The milky-white stipe, or stalk, has a branchy structure and becomes tough as the mushroom matures.
This mushroom is best consumed young. You want to wait until they are large, but not so large they start to decay or become a host for beetles and their larvae. (Yuck!) This mushroom appears in very large clusters, most are about 8" across or larger, with some getting to be 25 lbs or more!
What does it taste like? These mushrooms have a hearty flavor, like mushrooms and beef. They also hold up very well to cooking, even long cooking methods like stews.
To clean them, separate the "feathers" into single sections, and cut away the solid white base. Hen-of-the-woods has a tendency to grow around anything that is around it, and its not uncommon to find complete leaves or stones completely surrounding by the mushroom. Cut them well before cooking to avoid any surprises at the table! Brush off any dirt with a pastry brush. You can do a quick salt water dunk with this mushroom to make sure that you vacate any insects or spiders that might be hiding, but too many bugs might suggest the mushroom is too old to eat, and it is best left in the woods.
Like all wild mushrooms, never eat them raw. Hens can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days in a paper bag. If you have too many for one recipe, and you would like to preserve them for future use, saute in a pan with butter, a little olive oil, and salt. Cook well. Then pack into jars and freeze, or use a vacuum sealer. Some people chose to dry them, but I think this mushroom gets too tough when you re-hydrate.
One of my favorite preparations of this mushroom is in beef stroganoff. Feel free to leave out the beef and substitute mushroom or vegetable broth for the beef broth to make this a vegetarian option.
Beef and Hen-of-the-woods Mushroom Stroganoff
1 lb of beef round steak (or another tender cut), cut into thin strips
2-4 cups cleaned and separated hen-of-the-woods mushroom (add 3c or more if making it vegetarian)
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
4 -6 TBSP butter
3 cups stock (preferably homemade - use beef, mushroom, or veggie)
2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce (eliminate or replace with finely ground salt-cured olives for vegetarian)
1/2 tsp dry ground mustard
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sour cream
1 package of egg noodles, cooked (I prefer Kluski brand noodles)
Slice the beef, if using, across the grain into strips, and salt and pepper to the pieces.
Melt half of the butter in a heavy skillet with deep sides. When hot, add the beef and cook to browned on all sides. You might need to do this in batches.
Remove the beef.
Melt the rest of the butter in the same skillet. Add onions and mushrooms with a sprinkle of salt.
Cook mushrooms and onions well, until browned and tender. Work in batches so you do not boil them, and they brown nicely.
Add all the mushrooms back into the pan. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and onions. Cook for 1-2 minutes while stirring.
Slowly add the broth, over medium-low heat. Continue to stir while the sauce thickens.
Add the Worcestershire, mustard, paprika, and black pepper. Add the beef back into the skillet.
Simmer over low heat for 5-7 minutes.
Turn off the heat and add the sour cream. Combine well. Taste and adjust seasoning. (I find I often have to add a little more salt if I'm using homemade bone stock.
Serve over hot cooked egg noodles and enjoy!
*Please use common sense when mushroom picking and eating. This can be a dangerous activity if you are not 100% sure of what you are doing. While mushroom identification field books are handy, there is no substitute for an experienced local guide. Mushrooms can have deadly look-a-likes. This isn't to say that you cannot learn to identify mushrooms, but please use caution and proceed at your own risk. If you are interested in booking me as a guide, please fill out the form here.