The first rule of vegan supper club is don’t leave out the mushrooms. Learning to master the art of mushrooms can be a daunting task. There are dozens of varieties—each with their own flavor and texture—and each requires a different touch to master. Today, we’re going to tackle Hen of the Woods, also known as Maitake mushrooms. These wavy, multi-layered mushrooms are en vogue in many high-end restaurants due to their deep flavor and delicate, feathery texture, making them perfect for hearty and meaty applications. Pick up a pack at your local supermarket or Asian grocery store, and let’s get cooking.
1. Give maitake the attention they deserve
Don’t use maitake in place of your standard button mushrooms in a stir fry or saute—you’ll mask the texture and flavor amongst the high heat and sauce. Maitakes are superstar shrooms and demand the spotlight, so don’t crowd them in a wok with other veggies and flavorings that might steal the show. To protect the coveted texture of this shroom, cook them on their own. However, if you are adding maitake petals to a one-pot dish, try adding them in later on in the cooking process with your softer veggies, such as tomatoes, to allow them time to aromatize. Keep an eye on them, and avoid cooking them over a strong heat for more than 10 minutes.
2. Replace the moisture with something better
Mushrooms are wet—they grow at the base of dewy forests—but the liquid content isn’t exactly something you want to sip by the spoonful. Using a salty and acidic marinade—such as a sauce with a base of rice vinegar and soy sauce—will help draw out the mushroom liquid and replace it with something delicious that flavors the entire mushroom, not just the surface. By adding the right marinade, you can introduce the coveted Maillard reaction—also known as the chemical reaction that happens when amino acids and sugars get hot and heavy, resulting in a wondrous browning that amplifies the flavor and aroma of the mushrooms. This is pro-level cooking at its finest.
3. Press, and press, and press some more
After seasoning and marinating, press the mushrooms while they are in the pan—maintaining pressure as you sear them over heat. Periodically baste them in your marinade to create thick, juicy mushroom steaks. Seared maitake steaks offer a bite you can really sink your teeth into! Here’s a recipe to get you started.
4. Change your savory game with mushroom powder
Mushroom powders make amazing flavor boosters for soups and sauces, and maitake powder is one of the best. Pack an umami punch into a gravy, “beef” up your broth, or even mix it directly into the dry mixture for your next savory baked pie or homemade seitan. Even self-proclaimed mushroom-haters can enjoy the rich warmth that maitake powder brings to a dish. Best of all, this seasoning has a long shelf life and isn’t reliant on season or fluctuations in the produce aisle.
5. Enjoy it petal by petal
Pluck each of the feathery petals off the maitake cluster and savor each piece. Lightly brush each petal with oil and salt and bake at 375 degrees until crisp—usually 15 to 20 minutes. Toss in some additional seasonings such as smoked salt, smoked paprika, and a dash of toasted sesame oil to create a crispy, bacon-like topping for soups, pasta, or your morning avocado toast.
6. Create a customizable mushroom bowl
If you’re into cauliflower crust, you’ll love maitake tart shells. First, press out the mushroom, rolling it flat while you press. Brush the flattened shroom with oil then sprinkle on garlic powder, onion powder, and herbs such as rosemary, sage, and thyme. Using two nesting pyrex or oven-safe bowls, lay your flattened mushroom inside the larger bowl then place the smaller nesting bowl on top. Flip the bowls upside down and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes then remove the top bowl to allow the mushroom to crisp up. Remove the bowl from the oven and gently peel off the hardened mushroom shell from the overturned bowl. Place the mushroom “bowl” right side up and fill with grilled veggies, a vegan cheese wheel, seasoned rice, or whatever you have left in the fridge. Voila, you’ve just made a Michelin-worthy umami bowl.