Love Mushrooms? What You Need To Know About Maitake Mushrooms
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Despite its lack of popularity, the maitake mushroom is one of the best fungi on the market, with a delicate and earthy flavour. Maitake, also known as hen-of-the-woods, has lacy sides that make it ideal for frying, slicing and adding a visual flare (and earthy flavour) to a variety of meals. Though this mushroom is more difficult to obtain in the grocery store than the more common button, porcini, or shiitake, seek it the next time you have mushrooms on the menu.

Maitake and hen-of-the-woods are the same mushroom species, sometimes known as ram's head or sheep's head. This bouquet-like fungus grows naturally at the base of oak trees, but it may also be grown on a mushroom farm, which is where the majority of commercial maitake mushrooms are sourced. Though native to North America and Europe, the maitake has earned a reputation for itself in Chinese and Japanese cuisine, where it's frequently used in stir-fries, folded into eggs, and fried into a delicate side plate. This dish is so prevalent in Asia that the term maitake is a Japanese phrase that means "dancing mushroom," because foragers were said to dance around with excitement when they found one.

Flavour profile of maitake mushrooms

The maitake mushroom, like all mushrooms, has a deep earthy flavour, but this one has even more variations for the discriminating taster. To begin, it is more delicate than shiitake and has a more savoury flavour than porcini. The maitake has a slightly spicy flavour, but it's not overpowering. The maitake, like most mushrooms, will absorb a lot of the flavours of what it's cooked with; for example, if you fry it with soy sauce and garlic, it will taste strongly of those specific ingredients.

How to use maitake mushrooms?

If you're using maitake to improve your health, you can add it to any food that ordinarily contains mushrooms. It goes well with stir-fry, salad, pasta, pizza, omelettes, and soup. You can also grill or sauté the mushrooms in butter. Maitake has a strong, earthy flavour, so be sure you love it before using it in large quantities. If you want to extend the shelf life of fresh maitake, purchase it whole. Keep it in the refrigerator in a paper bag. You might be able to find it dry at some supermarkets. If you can find it fresh, it freezes nicely and can be kept on hand. It can also be frozen raw.