Hen of the woods gratin

Make the most of this large and tasty mushroom by creating a classic and comforting main meal

Hen of the woods gratin is a comforting and moreish dish
Hen of the woods gratin is a comforting and moreish dish

Hen of the woods or maitake (Grifola frondosa) is one of the most desirable edible polypores. It can be found growing parasitically on deciduous trees or their stumps, particularly Oak, and is easily identified by its wavy, grey-brown and cream “leaves” that resemble the tail feathers of a hen.

Hen of the woods growing on oak
Hen of the woods growing on oak

When young, it has a pleasant and slightly sweet, nutty aroma but can quickly start to smell unpleasant when mature. Its white flesh remains reasonably firm when baked or roasted, although it will break down to a mince-like consistency when pan-cooked at length.


Its large size means Hen of the Woods is perfect for a main meal — and has earned it the moniker king of mushrooms in Japan. Its other Japanese name, Maitake, means “dancing” — folklore has it that it is a reflection of the enthusiasm with which it is regarded in Asia, causing people to dance with joy when they saw it.


This recipe takes the slightly sweet but rich flavour of Hen of the Woods and combines it with leek, herbs and cheese to make a moreish and comforting Autumn dish. Crème fraîche is used rather than cream as a healthier option, but also to counteract the sweetness of the mushroom with a little sharpness. The umami of the cheddar and parmesan also works to balance the dish with some saltiness.


Hen of the woods ready to cook
Hen of the woods ready to cook

Preparing hen of the woods is simple as the majority of the mushroom can be eaten (also a bonus as there is limited wastage) — just trim off some of the thicker base of the mushroom where dirt can gather.


In China and Japan, maitake is used to treat diabetes and hypertension as it is believed to lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Because of this, people taking blood thinners or with diabetes, heart problems or low blood pressure are advised to check with a doctor before consuming in large amounts. As with many wild mushrooms, Hen of the Woods is reported to cause a gastric reaction in a small minority of people, so a small sample should always be eaten as a test before consuming the fungi in large quantities.


This recipe serves four as a main meal


For the Uszka (makes approx 18):


Ingredients - filling

Approx 400g hen of the woods (maitake), washed and trimmed

2 large leeks (200g-250g once trimmed) cut into ½ inch rounds

3 heaped tbsp crème fraiche

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

100ml dry white wine

Sprigs fresh thyme, leaved stripped

250ml/1/2 pint vegetable stock

1 tablespoon butter

2 handfuls breadcrumbs

1tbsp plain flour

1 tsp wholegrain mustard

Approx 25g cheddar, grated

Parmesan, grated


Method

Hen of the woods gratin

Preheat oven to 200 deg or 180deg fan


Add the butter to a frying pan and cook the leeks and garlic until turning golden on the edges.


Add in the Hen of the Woods and very lightly cook for a couple of minutes until just browned.


Sprinkle over 1 heaped tbsp of plain flour and stir in and season. Transfer to baking dish.


Add the white wine and vegetable stock to the pan and simmer for 5mins to slightly reduce.


Lower the heat and stir in the crème fraîche, mustard and thyme. Heat through for a couple of minutes while stirring to combine.


Pour over the leeks and mushrooms in the baking dish. Sprinkle the grated cheddar, parmesan and breadcrumbs over the top.


Cover with foil, transfer to the oven and cook for 20mins.


Remove foil and cook for a further 5 minutes to brown.


Learn more about Hen of the Woods or discover more about wild edibles and recipes on a foraging course


Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!