Making friends with other mushroom hunters can be a bit awkward from my experience, you want to share, but you don’t. If you meet another hunter out in the field, you are hunting the same areas, and that means you’re competing. You might give each other a knowing glance or nod, or take out your fishing pole in order to bluff that this isn’t your mushroom patch. I have had fun experiences meeting people and families from other cultures while hunting, but often when I meet other born and raised Minnesotans, we tend walk by each other, and pretend the other person doesn’t exist.
I have some hunting friends though, My buddy Dan Farmer is one of two people I have met directly through foraging, the other being local mushroom cultivation guru Mike Kempenich. Dan is a little bit older than me, but we have plenty in common: we both share a love of fine cooking, enjoying craft beer, and of course, we are both avid mushrooms hunters. Dan just retired recently, so he has a little bit more free time than I do. Since I work nights 5 days a week starting at noon, it can be hard to get out and have fun on days I work. Lucky for me though, Dan has plenty of time to hunt in the mornings during mushroom season and report his findings, I get to explore vicariously through him, it’s a lot of fun.
The 2013 Minnesota mushroom season kind of stunk, but if I know one thing, it’s that it’s impossible have a “normal season”, There is always something. Dan had some success with Hen’s/Maitake this year though, and made sure to tell me of what he was making with them. I remember one day in particular that I got a quick email that said he made a maitake-swiss burger, and how good it was. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a match made in heaven.
The best wild mushrooms species to top a burger?
You’re typical burger with mushrooms at a bar and grill is probably going to be topped with some white buttons/agaricus bisporus. They don’t have a ton of flavor, and after you’ve eaten wild species, you will notice cultivated ones pretty much just taste like water, since their growing substrate is infinitely less complex than what nature supplies. Even so, from my experience it just wont do to put just any wild mushroom on a burger. I have made the burger-wild shroom combo a couple of different times, and here are some of my thoughts/observations:
- You want a mushroom that can be bitten through easily, this means that solid, meaty chanterelles or matsutake do not work the best, they are too chewy. Also a chanterelle’s subtle flavor will be lost the moment an agressive condiment (read as any sort of ketchup) is added.
- At the same time, you also want a mushroom whose texture will stand up to the meatiness of the burger and not get lost, this means yellowfoot chanterelles and black trumpets are not the best choice either, they are too soft and delicate.
In the end, there are plenty of species that would be great prepared this way, but hen of the woods are especially good because they have so much texture, yet are still tender. They have texture enough to stand up to a burger and not get lost, but they don’t have so much texture as to be a chore while eating. You don’t have to reserve only hens for the mushroom-burger combo though, here are some other species that would be great:
- Fried slices of puffball cut into circles.
- Young sliced chicken of the woods
- Slippery jacks could be used to make a rich brown sauce or gravy, and would be a fun rendition of the mushroom and swiss burgers I remember getting with my dad at Hardees back in Litchfiield Minnesota when I was a kid.
- The crunch of a lactarius species or lobster mushrooms would be great too.
- Cooking the entire cap of a decent sized bolete would put any sort of portobello-topped burger to shame.
- Morels could also work just fine, since they are soft, and have an interesting texture too, but I would skip any condiments except mayonnaise.
Dan Farmer’s Maitake-Swiss Burger
This is a single portion, scale as needed. For large caveman appetites, I recommend 1/2 pound patties, for smaller portions, use 1/3 lb.
- A fine quality burger bun
- Unsalted butter
- Fresh maitake/hen of the woods, about 1 ounce per burger is fine (this will be three or four thumbs sized clusters)
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- Slices of swiss cheese, about 1 oz/ is ample
- Condiments of your choice. I like mayonnaise, mixed some hot sauce or sriracha it’s awesome, my ramp ketchup recipe would be good too.
- Lettuce. Look for “Boston butter lettuce” at your grocery store, it’s a bit more expensive, but juicy and flavorful. Leaf lettuce is a bit weak for me, and romaine has too much body.
- Fresh sliced tomatoes, preferably heirloom if they are in season, my favorite variety is the yellow taxicab.
- Ground beef. Preferably grass fed, and the highest fat content available.
- First clean your maitake. If they are very clean looking, which they can be, simply brush them with a cloth or pastry brush. Pick the mushroom into small clusters about the size of your thumb.
- Cut each bun in half, then spread evenly with soft butter as you would a grilled cheese. Toast the buns in a skillet or if cooking for multiple people, a long pancake griddle. When the buns are toasted, reserve them, making sure the toasted sides are facing up. Putting the toasted buns on top of each other while still warm will cause them to steam and lose their crispness. Have your mis-en-place ready, that means your lettuce is washed and picked, and the cheese/tomatoes are sliced and ready to go.
- Heat a cast iron skillet until smoking or have a grill hot and ready to go. Sear the maitake in some flavorless oil like grapeseed until caramelized and golden brown, season with salt and pepper and reserve. Season the burgers with kosher salt and pepper and cook either in the cast iron or on the grill until one side is crusted and has a golden brown sear.
- Flip the burgers and place the cheese on top, then top with the maitake. To melt the cheese refer to my note below. Allow the burgers to rest for 3-4 minutes, which will allow the juices to redistribute, making the burgers even more tender and juicy. Arrange the burgers on the buns, top with lettuce, sliced tomato, or whatever else you wish.