- Fresh maitake mushrooms should be young, pliable, damp.
- Trim the tough stem and break the mushrooms down into chunky pieces.
- Grill the mushrooms over very low heat.
- When they’re done, they should be crispy, and need just salt, pepper, and maybe a hit of parsley or lemon juice.
(Credit: Carla Lalli Music)
You either love mushrooms, or you don’t. I do, and maitakes might be my favorite. Weirdly, up until last week, I had never grilled them. I’m going to blame that on the fact that grilled portobellos exist, and have given grilled mushrooms a bad name for many, many years. Now that I know what I’ve been missing, I’ll spend the summer making up for lost time.
First: some basics. The maitake mushroom (a.k.a. “hen of the woods”) is a magestic-looking thing, frilly and bulbous, like a cross between a brain and a tasseled skirt. If a giant dinosaur egg suddenly grew tendrils, it might look like this. Look for young, pliable, damp ones. If they’re dried out or stiff, they’re over the hill and not worth investing in (the specimens above set me back $24 at the farmers’ market). The “fingers” (I got that term out of a mushroom book) are attached at the base by a slightly tough stem, but once that’s been trimmed, the mushroom can be broken into chunky pieces of any size.
To grill them, I keep it simple: Drizzle generously with oil. Use more than you’d like or think you need; they absorb it like crazy, but if you skimp, they’ll dry out on the grill and won’t ever really cook through.
Season with salt and pepper. That’s all.
Grill over indirect or very low heat. One night I cooked big giant Flintstone porterhouse steaks and had the mushrooms going on the cooler side of the grill. Another night I let the coals die down to embers and cooked the mushrooms directly over the waning fire. Both methods worked great.
The mushrooms will become crisp and golden, crunchy outside but tender and chewy beneath the surface. Because they’re cooked slowly, they have more time to absorb the smoky flavors. You could finish them with some chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon, or serve them with a spicy mayonnaise for dipping. They’d also be great drizzled with salsa verde. Or eat them as they come off the grill, like I did yesterday, feeling extremely satisfied with what $24 gets you these days.