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.
Dan Farmer's Maitake-Swiss Burger
- 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.