If you have a lot of maitake on your hands, pickling is a delicious way to preserve it. Parboiling the mushroom florets in the brine makes these ready to eat right away and adding some carrots and red onions brings extra color and flavor.
Maitake / Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa)
Grifola frondosa has many common names, all referencing its appearance. The two most popular are hen of the woods and maitake, meaning the dancing mushroom in Japanese. It is also sometimes called ram's head or sheep's head.
Maitake is a popular choice edible mushroom in North America and Asia, particularly in China and Japan, where it has been consumed for centuries as one of the major culinary mushrooms. It also grows in Europe, but is fairly rare in the Czech Republic. It occurs most prolifically in the northeastern regions of the United States, making it a very common find in Pennsylvania woods and parks. Every fall, my Facebook and Instagram feed floods with the most spectacular finds of giant maitake, always making me envious of those finds, because I haven't found much of it until this season. But as you know, mushroom hunting requires patience.
Maitake is a soft polypore mushroom that most frequently grows at the base of mature oaks, but sometimes other hardwoods as well, in late summer and fall. It is weakly parasitic on living trees, but also saprobic on decaying wood. It is a perennial fungus that often grows in the same place for a number of years in succession, so remember where you find it and keep coming back for harvest each year. If you're not lucky enough to find it in the woods, you can sometimes get it in the grocery store.
It forms large fruiting bodies composed of light to dark brown wavy caps organized into a large cluster of rosettes arising from a single, branched stem structure. The mushroom can be as large as 100 centimeters (40 inches), sometimes even up to 150 cm (60 in).
When you slice a giant maitake in half, you can see its branching structure that resembles a tree. Continue to make 1-inch thick slices this way to make some attractive-looking, roasted maitake steaks.
The underside of the each cap has pores, which run down the stem, often nearly to the base. The pores are lavender gray when young, becoming white and, with age, staining yellowish and more tooth-like. You can really see that in the above photo. The pores do not bruise. The flesh is white and does not change when bruised.
Maitake has a strong earthy flavor. You can use like any other mushroom, but it's particularly well suited for roasting and frying, because the thin edges will become crispy and so delicious. You can either break it into florets or make giant slices out of it (think giant maitake steaks), toss it with some oil, salt and pepper, and herbs and you've got yourself a very tasty treat. If you have too much on your hands and you need to preserve it, pickling is a delicious option.
Since there are no toxic lookalikes, this is a good beginner's mushroom. It is similar to Meripilus sumstinei, known as the black-staining polypore, which, you guessed it, stains black when bruised, which maitake does not.
Maitake has long evaded me until this mushroom season, when I found about 11 lbs in one weekend, which is actually not that much compared to some other people's finds! So if you have a lot of maitake on your hands, pickling is a delicious way to preserve it. Parboiling the mushroom florets in the brine makes these ready to eat right away and adding some carrots and red onions extra color and flavor.
Please be extremely careful cooking and eating foraged mushrooms. Never eat a mushroom that you are not 100% sure of its ID. The best way to learn how to identify and forage for edible mushrooms in your area is to join a local mushroom club or go with a trusted mushroom identifier or a mycologist. Then, even if you are 100% sure of its ID and know it's an edible mushroom, always try small quantities of a new mushroom first before eating a large batch to make sure it sits with you well.
- Prep Time: 40 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- large pot
- canning jars
I had four fruitings of maitake that I needed to preserve. The biggest one weighed over 8 pounds. The small fruiting on the left is the youngest and most tender.
- 8 cups water
- 4 cups white wine vinegar
- 2 cups sugar
- 6 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp pickling spice (cinnamon, allspice, mustard seed, bay leaves, ginger, cloves, red pepper flakes, black pepper, cardamom, mace)
- 2 tbsp black peppercorns
- 3 bay leaves
- 4 lbs hen of the woods, cleaned and torn into florets
- 1 large red onion, sliced thin
- 1 medium carrot, grated large
- 2-3 cups avocado oil
Cleaning maitake mushrooms is a time-consuming and sometimes traumatic experience depending on your relationship with various woodland critters, because they love to hide in all those crevices. I am not a fan, especially not of the ones that resemble centipedes, so cleaning this one was a particular challenge. But it was all worth it in the end!
I used a bought pickling mix in this recipe, because they were all out of mustard seeds (and the mix contained them), but you can experiment with different spices. The pickling mix had cinnamon and cloves as well, which I probably wouldn't have used, but it ended up working perfectly, giving the pickled mushrooms a complex flavor. On the other hand, the tiny pieces of bay leaves are not that great. I didn't strain the brine when I filled the jars so sometimes pieces of bay leaves would get stuck on the mushrooms and those are not great to eat. Win some, lose some!
- Prepare the pickling brine. Place 8 cups of water, 4 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of sugar, 6 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp pickling spice, 2 tbsp black peppercorns, and 3 bay leaves in a pot big enough to hold everything. Bring to a boil, whisking to dissolve the sugar and salt, and then reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the maitake florets, grated carrots and sliced red onions to the pot with the brine. Bring the mixture back to a boil and cook for 2-5 minutes depending on the size of your pieces and mushroom maturity. (If you have a young maitake, you don't need to boil for long. Older and therefore tougher maitake might benefit from full 5 minutes).
- Turn off the heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make sure the canning jars and lids are well cleaned.
- Divide the mushrooms among your jars and then ladle the pickling liquid (through a strainer if you don't want any spices included) to the packed jars about half way up. Then fill up will with avocado oil, completely covering the mushrooms.
- Place a kitchen towel at the bottom of a large pot and put jars inside. Fill with water and boil over medium heat and boil for 30 minutes to preserve. Let cool. If you want to be extra sure the jars are preserved right, repeat this step one more time.
- Store in a dark place like a pantry. Mushrooms preserved like this last for up to 2 years if you can resist eating them all right away!
Let me know what you think in the comments! I'd love to hear from you. Head to my Instagram account @fungiwoman for daily posts about my mushroom adventures. Also, check out my shop for some mushroom-inspired products and sign up for the newsletter to get updates.
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