An experiment in Miso & Maitake

Here in New England, signs of fall approaching are everywhere.  The air is cooling, the leaves are changing, and the – oh, who am I kidding?  The only signs I need are food-related: my local farmers markets are teeming with bushels of winter squash, sweet potatoes, apples, and cabbage. Yes, we’re kissing goodbye to summer and hunkering down for sweatshirt weather, and while those typical forbearers are all well and good, I’m partial to one more item that might not be on your autumn radar: mushrooms.

I took the train to Forge Park with Finn last Friday and was greeted at the train station by my father, still in his trademark food covered striped chef pants, with a back seat full of Hen of the Woods (or Maitake) mushrooms. He griped “No one will ever be able to convince me global warming isn’t real. These mushrooms are growing exactly three weeks later than usual this year!”

Driving with my father during “mushroom season” is a rather harrowing experience: his attentions are split 60%/40% between watching the road and watching for mushrooms. Abrupt braking and swerving is to be expected. We were driving along, talking about my upcoming trip to Vermont when he cuts me off saying: “Ohhh boy! Did you see that over there? It might have just been a pile of leaves… but it could have been a big fat Hen of the Woods!.

Oh boy. At the next stoplight he takes half of a left turn twice as fast as one should, yells at the oncoming traffic to keep driving around him, peels out the rest of the turn, finally swinging into a old woman’s driveway (we know it was an old woman’s driveway, specifically, because she was sitting on her front porch innocently rocking back and forth in her rocking chair) to find out that the would be mushroom was in fact, a pile of leaves.

Earlier in the week I had been browsing Saveur.com (which I love) when I came across this recipe for Mushroom Miso Soup. Clearly, I had to take advantage of my opportunity. Having survived the ride with my father – and having mooched a big, fresh Hen of the Woods off of him — I headed back to the city, Mushroom Miso on the brain.

Fresh wild mushrooms are hard to come by, and my inspiration recipe used a whole dried Hen of the Woods mushroom which was purchased online. I’m generally not the biggest fan of dried mushrooms, probably because I’m spoiled in this area. But, his photo looks quite beautiful and I’m sure it would come out great if that’s what you’ve got to work with!

If you do, however, get your hands on any fresh Hen of the Woods mushrooms, make sure you take care not to let them get too dried out. Place the mushroom into a glass baking dish lined with a damp dishrag. Then, cover them with another damp dishrag and pop them in the fridge until ready to use.  I purchased some Chicken mushrooms at the farmers market in Central Square a few weeks ago and oh boy. Those suckers were dry. Nothing a little (read: a lot) of butter couldn’t fix.

After tinkering with the soup base and fretting over how to cook my pretty little mushroom, I finally settled on the recipe below. The base was perfectly salty without an overwhelming miso flavor and celery provided just enough crunchy texture. The scallions tied everything together with their aromatic onion flavor — not to mention made a beautiful garnish! Prior to making this recipe, my only experience with miso was in the soup I ordered as a side to sushi. Turns out, it’s extremely easy to replicate! So, grab a blanket and buckle down for fall with this simple recipe; a way more interesting alternative to your usual chicken noodle.

**Disclaimer: I don’t measure! These are all very rough approximations.

Hen of the Woods Miso Soup

1 fresh whole Hen of the Woods mushroom (I’d say mine was about 3/4lb. Served two.)
2 tbsp Unsalted Butter
4 cups Water
1 cup Chicken Stock
1/3 cup Dried Arame (Seaweed)
3 packets of a Japanese Clear Soup Base (or you could just use one or two chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes! I don’t think this made much difference.)
1 cup Sliced Scallions (Green and white parts)
2 stalks Celery
3 tbsp White Miso Paste
1 tbsp Sriracha
Sea Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste.

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Place whole Hen of the Woods into a shallow baking dish and cover with tabs of butter. (You could also melt the butter and drizzle it over the mushroom if that’s what you’d prefer.) Season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Place in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges begin to get slightly crispy.
  3. Place water, chicken stock and broth packets (or bouillon) into a large pot. Bring to a boil. Add dried arame (seaweed). Cook for around 5 minutes, until the seaweed appears reconstituted. Add celery and scallions. Cook another 5 minutes or so and remove the pot from the heat.
  4. Stir in the miso paste. I had a hard time getting all the chunks incorporated into my broth, so I used a whisk to break up the larger bits. (Soup should appear cloudy.)
  5. Once the mushroom is finished, divide it up into two equal pieces and place in the bottom of two bowls.
  6. Pour the cooking juices from the mushroom into the soup pot, stir. (This is my way of making up for for not having soaking liquid from rehydrating a dried mushroom.)
  7. Ladle miso soup over the mushrooms.
  8. Garnish with chopped scallions.
  9. Slurrrrrp!

I served mine with a cold salmon soba noodle salad with a light ponzu sauce. They worked well together!

Bon appetit!

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2 Responses to An experiment in Miso & Maitake

  1. Adrienne says:

    Looks fantastic, and seriously, thanks for the mushroom up-keep advice. I wouldn’t have thought to add damp towels to my storage container, and I don’t think I can use mine until Thursday.

  2. I am so picky when it comes to maitake mushrooms…. I’ve just had them cooked wrong at so many restaurants. But when they’re done right, mmmmm! I guess that’s why I still order them as a side if I see ’em on the menu — always hoping! 🙂

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