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Hen of the Woods!...foraging for nature's Autumn bounty.

It is finally here...the Autumnal Equinox, Fall, Mabon, the changing of the guards (and I must say, I think these guards have the best uniforms), the first day of favorite season and I am beyond ready to give thanks for Summer's bounty and start foraging for comforts of the new season! I was blessed to receive a gorgeous Hen of the Woods mushroom a couple of days ago from my neighbors. Their family had gone out mushroom hunting and came back with 7...7!...bags of mondo specimens of this earthy, pungent, autumn mushroom! Hen of the Woods, also known as Maitake, Sheep's Head, Ram's Head or Chicken of the Woods, is a perennial mushroom. So, if you can remember where you found this beauty (probably at the base of a sturdy hardwood or pine tree) you can go back and collect another next year. Maitake have been used for Medicinal purposes in their native Japan and in China for many years "due to their ability to regulate blood pressure, glucose, insulin, and both serum and liver lipids, such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids. Some think may also be useful for weight loss. They are also Maitake is rich in minerals (such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium), various vitamins (B2, D2 and Niacin), fibers and amino acids."* These mushrooms can grow very large...the one I have is almost a foot wide! I'm not sure how much it weighed because I'm a bad foodie without a scale but it was pretty heavy. Of course, some of that weight may have been contributed by all the little critters taking up residence in its many nooks & crannies. Ick. I am a nature-lover and all, but insects in all their creepy crawly glory, still give me the willies. I don't run screaming or anything, but I do get a good shiver. Needless to say, it is very important that you clean the Hen of the Woods well before using them. Fill up your sink, or an extra large bowl with warm water and salt. I halved the big mass and one half at a time, dunked it into the prepared water. This will get out the critters and debris that are trapped or hiding. Five minutes should be sufficient. While I'm doing this, I cut off the woody base and separate the mushroom a bit. You may have to flick some smaller bugs off with your finger or the tip of a paring knife. See the dirty, bug filled water you'll have when you're done. But trust me, it's well worth it!
Remove from the water after ~5 minutes and gently rub off any excess dirty that may be clinging. Now you have clean Hen of the Woods to do with what you will!And since I know that you want to know what I did with them....I made a perfect meal to celebrate Autumn...earthy and delicious!

Hen of the Woods w/ Chicken & Herbs
by girlichef

1 Tbs + 2 Tbs. Butter, divided

~1 lb. Chicken Thighs, boneless & skinless (or not)

Sea Salt

Black Pepper, freshly ground

2 small Onions, sliced thin

3-4 cloves Garlic, peeled & smashed

3 large handfuls (double-handed) Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, free of dirt & debris

few glugs White Wine

3-5 fresh Sage leaves

2 sprigs Rosemary

few sprigs fresh Thyme

1/2 c. Chicken Stock

Begin by slicing or chopping your Hen of the Woods into large pieces and set aside.Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high then drop in 1 Tbs. of butter and add your chicken thighs, seasoned w/ sea salt & pepper. Sauté until the first side is browned, then flip over. Once second side has begun to brown (they will not be cooked through), remove the chicken to a plate until you're ready to add it back in.
Drop your onion & garlic into the pan and begin to sauté them in the fat that the chicken thighs left in the skillet. Once they have begun to soften and turn golden, add in another Tbs...or two of butter. The mushrooms love to soak up liquid, so be sure to add enough. Drop in your prepared mushrooms.Stir everything around in the pan, and once the mushrooms have begun to soften and brown slightly, add your few glugs of white wine. Scrape up any fond that had developed on the bottom of the pan. Add your herbs to the pan, pour in your chicken stock and nestle your chicken thighs back into the mushroom mixture. Once the liquid has come to a good bubble, cover the pan and reduce heat to a low simmer for ~20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.Adjust seasoning to taste with more sea salt & black pepper. I served over egg noodles with some green beans on the side. Delicious, comforting, earthy, rustic...the perfect way to say welcome to Fall!!Are you wondering if I had any Hen of the Woods left? I mean that was a biggun, right! Yes, I definitely did. I decided to try my hand at preserving to see which methods I liked best. First, I scattered some on a sheet pan to freeze. I've read that you do not need to blanch or pre-treat Hen of the Woods as you do most other mushrooms, so I didn't....they froze up very nicely and I transferred them to freezer bags. We'll see what happens when I try to put them to use next time. I'll be sure to give you an update. I also have a batch in the dehydrator right now, but those won't be done for at least another day, so again...update to follow. And I'm going to give you fair warning....dehydrating them completely and totally stinks up the house. The kids are pretty unhappy about that right now. And I have to say, I'm not particularly enjoying it either, but it's looking like the end result will justify the means. I found some great tips on storing them here.
9/23/09~UPDATE!! This is my quart sized bag of dehydrated Hen of the Woods Mushrooms. So amazing how much water is in them...I started out with about the same amount that is on the sheet pan above for freezing and they dried down to this!! I can't wait to use them in something this way. I feel pretty cool to have dried my own mushrooms. ;) It worked so well!

*source: Wikipedia

Hen Of The Woods With Chicken and Herbs on Foodista

I am revisiting this post for the Hearth and Soul Hop this week (vol. 21).