My daughter, Robin, is a mushroom hunter. She treats me to these wild delicacies each spring. The early mushrooms are gone now, but there’s a late variety with the enchanting name: “hen-of-the-woods,” that shows up in the fall. They’re usually found clustered at the base of a white oak or bur oak tree.
A friend who lives on the Mississippi River shared his harvest with her and she cooked them when she had me to dinner last week. I learned a little more as I watched her sauté the fluted, white “Hens,” with garlic, shallots, butter, salt/pepper and a splash of white wine.
As I examined the irregular shaped hens, (not to be confused with “chicken-of-the-woods” mushrooms that appear much earlier), I asked about the name. It comes from the mushrooms’ resemblance to a chicken sitting on a nest, she explained.
They are particularly nutritious and highly prized by Chinese and Japanese herbalist for enhancing the immune system and bringing the body’s various systems into balance. In Eastern medicine they’re called “maritake,” which means “dancing mushroom.”
Indeed, they dance lightly on the palate and, IMO, are one of the tastiest of wild mushrooms. They are highly expensive in organic food stores, so it’s best to find a friend with the expertise to find the woodland delicacy and the willingness to share.