Ingredient Spotlight: Maitake Mushroom

A.K.A. "Hen of the Woods"

To me, this ruffled cluster mushroom smells like beer. Whenever I have one in the refrigerator, it always confuses me when I open the door. I always think there's a spilled beer bottle back there somewhere. But the maitake mushroom doesn't taste like beer.

Maitake mushrooms, also known as Hen of the Woods, are clusters of small, fan-shaped caps that grow on trees. They are also able to be cultivated successfully. The caps are ruffled and are often a grayish-brown color, sometimes tan. The undersides have pores instead of gills. The flesh is firm.

Maitakes are native to Japan and North America. They have been known to grow up to 50 pounds, which is where they get the moniker "The King of Mushrooms." Long used in Oriental medicine as an immune booster, modern research has proven that maitake mushrooms have cancer-fighting properties.

Maitake are used in a wide variety of dishes, from nabemono to pastas. They can be simply cooked in butter with a touch of salt or fried.

Related:
Seasonal Spotlight: Matsutake Mushroom
Seasonal Spotlight: Pink Oyster Mushrooms

(Image: Kathryn Hill)