Flaunting layers upon layers of dainty suede-like ruffles, this Japanese mushroom is known by several names: Maitake, Sheep's head, Ram's head and Hen of the woods. In Asia, maitakes are highly valued for their medicinal benefits, which are believed to strengthen the immune system, and notably for cancer patients, stunt or reverse tumor growth.
Aside from the health benefits, maitakes are also prized for their delightfully earthy flavors and enormously appealing texture. On a recent visit to Bar Masa, my husband and I dined on on an incredible dish: maitake seared on the hibachi grill, and sprinkled with shaved spring truffles. It was divine!
Since maitakes are readily available at our local New York Union Square farmers' markets and in San Francisco at Far West Fungi at the Ferry Building, I thought I would try to replicate Bar Masa's grilled maitake dish, using a seasoned cast iron pan. The results? A luxurious, earthy and smoky dish.
When purchasing maitake mushrooms, select whole clusters where the ruffles are firm, and all or nearly all ruffles are intact. Avoid specimens that appear dry as wilted maitakes will compromise the very appealing texture. One whole cluster can weigh between a quarter to greater than half a pound, so select an amount that suits your needs and prepare them the same day you take them home.
TRUFFLED MAITAKE MUSHROOMS RECIPE
- 1/4 pound fresh maitake mushrooms, one cluster
- 2-3 tablespoons white truffle oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- To prepare the maitake mushrooms, brush off any dust on the mushrooms. Do not rinse the mushrooms. According to Alice Waters, mushrooms should not be rinsed, or at least rinsed very sparingly. If you are looking to clean mushrooms without rinsing, you may want to consider using a vegetable brush to dust lightly. Trim back the stump, before breaking apart the maitake clusters into chunks that are roughly 2-3 inches cubed.
- In a seasoned cast iron pan, heat the burner to high. Once the pan is hot, drizzle roughly two tablespoons of truffle oil. When the truffle oil is heated, arrange the maitakes onto the surface of the pan, ensuring that the mushroom chunks have enough space to move around. If necessary work in two batches. Sear each side of the maitake surface for 1-2 minutes, working with a wooden spoon to prevent the mushrooms from sticking. If the mushrooms appear too dry, drizzle another tablespoon of truffle oil. There should be a nice brown crust on each side.
- Sprinkle with salt, and if desired, pepper to taste.