One of the most classic hen of the woods recipes, these grilled, pressed mushroom steaks are one of my favorite hen of the woods recipes.
It was a busy Saturday night, and a little more exciting than usual since I had some friends coming in for their anniversary: the husband and wife duo who wrote and photographed the book Tasting Minnesota. I wanted to make a couple fun things for them since I knew they enjoy things like mushrooms and eating weeds out of their garden.
The first course was a little stew of the youngest mikweed pods I could find in my cooler. After that I was having a little creative difficulty, I didn't know what to make.
Then it came to me: I'd picked one little hen of the woods and stuck it in the cooler after having gone out the day before, hitting all my patches and basically gotten skunked except for one little maitake. It was about 6 ounces or so, maybe a little bigger, it would be just perfect for two people.
The cooks had also requested a grill press for our flat top, so I'd brought mine in from home. What if I cooked the little hen "al mattone", the way Italians cook split chickens on the grill, pressed to make their skin crisp?
I put the mushroom down on the flat top, oiled it up, put the press on it, and waited. A couple minutes later, I gave it a flip.
It was a thing of beauty. I'd cooked hen of the woods in big chunks before and loved it, but this was something a little different. The caramelization was edge to edge, impossible to replicate without weighting down the mushroom.
I chopped it in half with a chef knife, the inside was tender, the ruffles and ridges all pressed together tightly, everything surrounded by golden brown goodness.
I was surprised by how well the flattened hens held they're rigidity too, they were stiff as a board coming off of the grill. Even though I'd rinsed them well to remove grit and a spider that was renting the inner core, they were crisp as could be.
Now all you have to do is figure out what to do with your hens when they come out of the pan.
Cleaning large clusters of hen of the woods
A word on cleaning. Cutting hens into large pieces and cleaning can be tricky to say the least, so here's what I do: I visually inspect each hen cluster, and rinse in cold water, trimming with a paring knife as needed, then I let them dry on paper towels, or underneath dish cloths at the restaurant.
Each hen is different, and some you just may not be able to cook like this, especially if they're in sandy soil and it's been raining. If worst comes to worst, and you are forced to break the hen up into pieces that aren't giant steaks, it's ok, they will cook a little faster, just try and keep them in as big of clusters as possible and use your best judgement.
Hen of the Woods Mushroom Steaks
- 1 10 inch cast iron skillet
- 6 oz Very clean hen of the woods mushrooms broken into large clusters, I like about 4-6 ounce pieces
- Kosher Salt
- 2 tablespoons Cooking oil or as needed
- A weight for pressing down the mushrooms this could be a rock, log, cinder block, a pan, whatever. If it's an oddly shaped item, or crumbly (wood) wrap it in foil before it contacts your mushrooms
Basting and finishing (optional)
- A couple lightly crushed garlic cloves
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter This is a starting point, you just need enough butter to be able to baste the steaks.
- Small handful of fresh thyme
- Clean the hens by swishing in cool water, gently peering inside the leaves to make sure their cleaned, trimming with a paring knife as needed, then allowing to drain on paper towels.
- Heat the oil in a pan or on a griddle until hot, but not smoking. Add the mushroom clump and season with salt, placing the weight on top, then cook until the underside is deeply caramelized, then flip and repeat.
- If the pan gets dry, add a little more oil. When both sides of the mushroom are deeply caramelized and browned, add the butter, garlic cloves and thyme to the pan, cook for a few minutes more, basting with the butter as it foams.
- When you can't take it anymore and the house smells delicious, remove the hen steak(s) to a paper towel to weep excess oil for a moment, sprinkle with some flaky salt or just a little extra kosher salt, and serve as a center of the plate item with your favorite side dishes, garnishes, etc.
Great idea. Question though. How is it possible to get rid of the sand inside mushroom without splitting it in small pieces. I do not know any other way to clean it except split it and wash it multiple times.
Great question. I added a small portion on cleaning to the post. Every hen is different, and some that are more open and have been splashed with sandy rainwater or dirt, and then had it grow inside their flesh (I've had rocks inside hen stems before) will not be able to be cooked like this. You can always break them into smaller pieces too, just try to keep them as big as possible, it will still be good. You'll have to judge each mushroom for their potential to be cooked like this.
Thank you, as always!
What a thing of beauty! We just harvested about 2 bushels of lovely leeks. Wish I had some of those lovely chicks too.
Alan, I love your blog. I just discovered it. I've been foraging for a long time, but am more lacking in the culinary end of things. I love all your creative ideas and ways to cook wild things. I tried your pan roasting method for maitake steaks, but they came out too tough for me. So then I cut them smaller, and cooked them the rest of the way with a weight, as you described above. The result was so much better.
I then decided to try your brick method with a matsutake. I sliced it up a little thicker than usual (we tend to slice matsutakes really thin), and cooked it a little before putting the weight on it. The slices browned up so evenly and beautiful - almost too pretty to eat. But they tasted great, too!
I would like to try this method with some Hericium mushrooms. Thanks for the inspiration.
Glad you found it useful Arena.
Fantastic blog! Found some mushrooms while I was hiking this weekend North of Duluth, and was perusing the web to identify them and found your blog. Easy enjoyable informative reading and some stellar photographs to boot. Makes me want to go back North and pick those mushrooms I came across and work some culinary magic on them, using your recipes. Keep up the fantastic work! Looking forward to more.
How do you keep large hens . My husband got two about 12 lbs each a few weeks ago. I froze some raw and par boiled some but the lose some taste.
Where can I buy your mushrooms?
For home use, I clean large hens, break them into pieces, wash and prepare for cooking, then usually keep them in a paper bag with moist towels (not wet) to allow some moisture to be in there with them. It's fine to keep them in a plastic bag too if that's all you have. I generally break them up into large pieces, say 6 ounces or so, to give me control over what I want to do with them. I never freeze them raw since I don't like how they come out afterwords, I prefer to cook, then freeze. Usually I pickle them as opposed to freezing.
Sorry I don't grow or sell mushrooms, I only cook them. When I figure out a new kitchen gig there will be a press release, on here, and via some local media outlets.