UNDISCLOSED NORTH AMERICAN LOCATION–Grifola Frondosa appears in late summer through mid fall. While it has a distinctive appearance which would be difficult to confuse with other mushrooms, and it can grow to enormous size, it can still be difficult to see as it often well camouflaged by grass and fallen leaves on the forest or savannah floor. A local man has expanded his hunt for the elusive Hen of the Woods this year in order to have enough of the delicacy to share with friends and extended family when they visit the farm for a wedding at the end of August.
“Normally, I just pick one or two maitake which typically weigh between 5 and 10 pounds each; I leave the small ones” declared the mushroom hunter. “A good sized specimen can take a long time to clean because of the grass and leaves which get caught in the fungus as it grows.” He explained that one 10 pound mushroom could take up to an hour to prepare for cooking or dehydrating. Each is deconstructed, leaves and other forest debris are removed bit by bit, then the “petals” are placed in a dehydrator overnight or cooked immediately. “I usually sauté some in olive oil and season with minced shallot and a little salt and pepper, then eat right away–straight from the pan or tossed in pasta. They are at least as good as morels, maybe better. ” Dried hen of the woods is easily rehydrated and are excellent additions to soups, sauces and stews.
Hen of the Woods is not the same as Chicken of Woods. “One looks like a chicken, from the back, I guess, and the other supposedly tastes like chicken.” The two are totally unrelated: Laetiporus is often bright orange and grows on dead or dying trees, Grifola Frondosa grows on the ground under healthy trees. Since their seasons overlap, the forager allowed that there may be some Chicken of the Woods on the menu too.
The Hen of Woods has a special importance to the soon-to-be married couple as they went hunting for them on the day the first met nearly a dozen years ago.