Sunday, August 11, 2013
From the various farmers' markets I've been to, it seems most, if not all, have at least one stand with a mushroom guy (or gal). The stand is usually less crowded than the others, and there are only a few mushrooms on display, majority of the stock remaining hidden from the harsh daylight. While there is the inevitably ordinary stock of crimini, portobello, and various oyster mushrooms in small baskets, there are usually a few weird ones as well. The sellers I've talked to seem extremely knowledgeable about their fare, somewhat nerdy, and usually ready to strike up a long conversation about mushroom farming, how to cook them, and everything else.
And so, having sampled pickled olives and a few pickles-on-a-stick from a neighboring stand, we bravely approached the lone mushroom guy who was insidiously wearing "life is crap" t-shirt amidst seemingly happy families and chattering children in this smallish but friendly town market on a sunny Saturday. My husband pointed to a large ball of a fungus, frilly with small brown petal-like "fingers" and asked: what is it? Hoping perhaps for a little story, or at the very least, some information about the mushroom. Maitake, the mushroom man answered, tall, his unshaven face shadowed by the visor of his baseball cap, completely disinterested in mushrooms or potential customers.
What does it taste like?
Why don't you try it.
Man of a few words, the life-is-crap mushroom man tore off a few of the petals and tossed them in our general direction. Though I'm not usually a fan of raw mushrooms - they seem too styrofoam-like raw - this one tasted good. Really good. It was moist, woody, almost smoky with a slightly tingly after-taste, as if you've just swallowed a sip of dry champagne. What do you do with it? My husband asked.
Eat it. Cook it. Sauté it. Want it?
Though the man himself did hardly, the globular mushroom spoke quite a bit for itself, so we picked up the half-a-pound head for twelve dollars.
This mushroom, called grifola frondosa, maitake, or colloquially hen-of-the-woods, can be found around New England growing at the base of trees (or cultivated by mushroom enthusiasts such as the one described). Reading about it, I was intrigued to find out that it is used in traditional medicine to boost the immune system, a claim which also has been backed by cancer research.
As an added benefit, the mushroom is very rich in taste, especially if you're tired of blandness of the button mushrooms. Because the mushroom is so flavorful, I decided to briefly sauté it with a little bit of shallot, white wine, and parsley, which complement its flavors.
To prepare it for the sauté, I broke off the little florets (similarly to perhaps how you would chop up a broccoli head, discarding the tougher base). I sautéed it for less time than I do ordinary mushrooms, since I wanted it tender while preserving most of its freshness.
This would pair wonderfully with a meat-based or a vegetarian meal. For a meatless dinner, try tossing the sautéed mushrooms with some whole-wheat pasta and extra-virgin olive oil.
Sauteed Maitake Mushrooms
You will need:
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp finely chopped shallot or red onion
4 oz maitake mushrooms (about 1/2 head)
A splash of dry white wine (about 1/8 cup)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1. Rinse the mushrooms; chop off the end of the stem that holds the mushroom together. Either break off or chop the fingers into 1 to 2 inch pieces (similar as you would a head of broccoli). Use the base stem elsewhere or discard.
2. Heat oil in a sauté pan on medium heat. Add the shallot or onion and sauté until translucent and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and glistening, about 3 minutes. Add the wine, hear it sizzle, and cook until it is almost evaporated, about 1 minute. Sauté about 1 to 2 minutes more; add the salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and toss with the parsley. Serve.