Widely known in the US as “hen of the woods” because of their richness and dense texture, maitakes are native to Japan. They can look intimidating, like a piece of brown coral, but they’re delicious and meaty, and very easy to work with. If you’ve never tried them, I encourage you to experiment with maitakes, but you can use this recipe with portobellos, shitakes, or any mushroom that’s big enough to grill.
Maitakes first came to my attention because of their remarkable healing properties. In studies they have been shown to help lower blood pressure and trigger the immune system in the treatment of cancer. They are high in protein, fiber, and in vitamins B and C. To get the strongest health benefits, maitakes have to be consumed in a concentrated form like a tea or tincture, but merely eating them can have healthy effects over time.
As with any mushroom, maitakes can be cooked in a variety of ways: sautéed, braised, or seasoned and ground as a meaty filling. When grilling maitakes, attention must be paid to slicing. It’s important that each slice be attached to the large stem at the bottom; otherwise the slice will fall apart and be hard to handle on the grill. To avoid this problem, simply pick up the mushroom and look at where the stem is. If you like, turn the mushroom on its side or even upside down while you gently slice, making sure the connection between the frilly part of the mushroom and the stem intact.
I’ve heard people comment that mushrooms like these that can’t be found at the supermarket are a luxury item, and cost too much to cook with. I have found maitakes from a few different farmers going for $20 per pound, which may seem expensive. But I was able to get 6 generous portions from a 1-pound mushroom, putting the cost per serving at roughly $3.30 each, a price I find quite reasonable.
These mushrooms truly merit the center of the plate. When grilled, they are dark, roasty, and tender. In summer, garnish them with your favorite fresh herbs and a drizzle of lemon. Serve them the same way you would a piece of grilled meat, fish, or – hen.
Time: 40 minutes
Start this recipe the night before you plan to serve.
Marinade (Yield: 2 ¾ cups marinade)
1 ¼ cup olive oil
¾ cup soy sauce
3 scallions, cleaned, top 3rd removed and set aside
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3 tablespoons agave
5 tablespoons white wine
1 l-lb Maitake mushroom
Salt and pepper
Put the olive oil, soy sauce, the bottom two thirds of the scallions, garlic, agave, and 2 tablespoons of white wine in a blender. Blend until smooth and taste for salt, adding if needed.
Slice the maitake into 1-inch thick slices. Place the slices on a plate or pan and generously coat them with the marinade, making sure to cover both sides. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to grill, heat grill or grill pan until very hot. When the grill is hot enough, use tongs to place maitake slices on grill. Press the slices against the grill with a metal spatula to get grill marks, and brush with extra marinade. Grill for 3 minutes, then turn the slices over. Again, press down with the metal spatula. Brush with marinade and grill an additional 2 minutes. Remove the grilled maitakes from the heat and set aside.
Heat a sautée pan and add the remaining marinade plus 3 more tablespoons of white wine. Reduce.
Serve the grilled maitakes as an entrée with mashed potatoes and sautéed greens, and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Drizzle the plate with the marinade reduction and garnish with minced green scallion tops. You may also serve the mushrooms on their own as an appetizer, sliced in 3 lengthwise.
Yield: 6 servings.