Roasted Maitake Mushrooms

 
(image T. Freuman)

(image T. Freuman)

I’ll be the first to confess that elaborate mushrooms scare me a bit. The otherworldliness of enokis, the meatiness of King Trumpet stalks, the sponge-like texture of Lion’s Manes.

But I’ve been served Hen of the Woods enough at high-end restaurants to know that something delicious would await me if I could just bring myself to push past the awkwardness of our first face-to-face kitchen encounter. So I did. And I’m glad.

If the name Hen of the Woods doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps you’ve encountered this mushroom elsewhere under its Japanese name, Maitake? Maitakes get a lot of good press for their high antioxidant content, and they’ve even shown promise as a food with cancer-preventive potential.

We’re going to skate past the question of “why” to roast Hen of the Woods mushrooms, because the answer is quite obvious. In short:

  • They’re a delicious umami bomb
  • They make mundane foods like polenta, plain pasta, mashed potatoes or burgers extremely fancy
  • They’re insanely nutritious and are a part of your balanced, inflammation-taming, disease-preventing diet
  • You’re getting sick of roasting cauliflower

Now: Hen of the Woods mushrooms grow in a log-like cluster (below, top) that can be a bit intimidating. But once you approach the cluster with a knife, you can cut off little florets that have such a strong resemblance to cauliflower, that you’ll feel comfortable in no time (below, bottom).  As you take apart the mass of mushrooms into smaller florets, use your finger or a paper towel to dust off any little clusters of dirt embedded among the stalks.

 

 

Once you have the mushroom cluster cut down into florets, the rest is a cinch. Toss the florets in olive oil to lightly coat and sprinkle with salt. Arrange on a parchment paper lined baking tray. Roast in a 425 degree oven. Check on them after 10 minutes; smaller pieces may already be crisp on the edges. Remove these from the tray and put the tray back in the oven for another 3-5 minutes to get the larger pieces a little bit crispier. Remove from oven and serve!