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