Tender fronds of hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa or maitake) cooked slowly until they just start to brown with butter, sage, garlic and wine make for a good seasonal side dish you can add to all kinds of things.
The basic idea is that you peel the mushroom apart to make long, elegant fronds to show off the natural shape of the mushroom, then cook them slowly in a pan with brown butter, and sage leaves, along with some water or stock to steam them.
Once the mushrooms are wilted, you continue cooking to evaporate the wine, cooking until the mushrooms have just started to color in the fat that's left over. Finally you add a little garlic, some wine, and spoon the juices over everything.
When I ran the daily-changing vegetarian tasting menu at Heartland, I relied on simple techniques like this. I would make a large batch of a couple pounds at a time, gently reheating a small amount "on the pickup" when an entrée came in.
Adjusting the shape
I love the look of a long mushroom frond with the slender stem attached, but it's fine, and easier for a lot of people to cut the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces before making this. If you want a side of mushrooms that you can spoon on top of something just cut them up a bit. Cut into bite-sized pieces this is the start of a nice sauce for gnocchi, along with a handful of spinach, shallots and parmesan.
Adjusting the color and texture
Depending on how you like your mushrooms, you can do a few things here. If you cook them just until they wilt, the mushrooms will have a more mild flavor. If you cook them longer after the stock has evaporated, they'll start to get color, and get crisp around the edges. I like them with a little color on them.
Making a pan sauce to finish (optional)
Most of the time if I cook a dish with brown butter, I'll make a pan sauce with the butter left in the pan to spoon over the finished dish. This is optional. Below is an example of how I make one in a small saute pan.
Here's how to make it: cook and brown the butter, add a splash (¼ cup) of dry white wine, cooking at a brisk simmer. Add a tablespoon of cold butter and a pinch of salt and whisk vigorously, reducing the heat if needed and simmering until the sauce is opaque and slightly thickened. Double check the seasoning, adjust as needed, then add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice right before serving.
If the sauce breaks or separates, you can re-emulsify it by adding another splash of cool water, then whisk again, and reheat to refresh it. Some chefs serve it as a broken sauce so don't get discouraged if yours breaks. Spoon the finished sauce over the mushrooms, or a finished dish like the mushrooms with squash pictured in this post, or some pasta or ravioli.
Brown Butter-Sage Hen of the Woods Mushrooms
- 4 oz unsalted butter
- 8-10 oz fresh hen of the woods
- 2 large garlic cloves finely chopped or grated
- 1.5 Tablespoons fresh sage leaves sliced, about 5-6 large leaves
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- ¼ cup chicken stock or water
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- A few cracks of the peppermill to taste
- A squeeze of fresh lemon juice to taste
- Tear the mushrooms into pieces of a couple fronds each, leaving the long stem attached.
- In a saucepan with high sides a lid, heat the butter on medium-high heat until melted and sizzling. When you can see the color of the milk solids in the butter just barely begin to turn tan in color, turn the heat to medium and swirl the pan a bit.
- The goal here is to develop flavor by browning, but not burning the butter.
- When the butter is aromatic and starting to brown, take the pan off the heat and swirl it slowly a few times.
- Put the pan back on the heat and add the sage, swirl the pan and cook for a minute more, then add the stock or water, salt, a few cracks of fresh pepper and the mushrooms, cover the pot with a tight fitting lid, increase the heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally to coat the hens with the pan juices for about 10-15 minutes.
Finishing and serving
- Continue cooking the hens until the liquid is gone and there’s only butter. Stir the hens to coat with the juices, then taste a piece and adjust the salt as necessary until it tastes good to you.
- Cook until the mushrooms have just started to brown lightly on the edges. Turn the heat down a bit. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two more. When the hens look good to you, add the wine and the squeeze of lemon, simmer for a minute to cook off the alcohol.
- Divide the mushrooms between preheated dinner plates or a hot serving dish. Spoon the remaining juices over the mushrooms and serve.
- They’re good as a side dish or served with meat.