Test Kitchen: Hunting the Hen of the Woods

by Mara Eyllon on October 8, 2010

If Michael Pollan had you venturing into the woods in search of local mushrooms, instead consider foraging around Parker Farm at the Union Square Farmers Market tomorrow.

For the past few weeks, Parker Farm (Lunenburg) has offered market goers a chance to sample the locally foraged Hen of the Woods Mushroom, or Maitake as they are known in Japan. The Hen of the Woods is characterized by lightly coffee-stained fronds cloaking the tough, thick stem, and grows in wooded areas throughout the Northeast, most often clinging to the lower trunks of deciduous trees such as oak and maple.

The flavor of the Hen of the Woods is woody and mild, and its texture dense, making it an ideal mushroom for slow simmering in seasoned broth or vegetable juices. Ordinarily, the disorderly arrangement of its petal-like caps makes the Hen of the Woods difficult to clean, but Parker Farm makes it easy by trimming away the outer caps and coarse stems. Steve Parker, who forages for the mushrooms himself, recommends cleaning the Hen of the Woods by shaking them in a bowl of water to loosen the dirt trapped in between the crevices. According to Parker, Hen of the Woods are now at their peak, in the middle of what has been a slow and dry growing season.

A stew seemed most appropriate for the London-esque grayness of the past week, as well as a suitable gesture of welcome for the encroaching hours of evening darkness. The mushrooms lend to the lightness of this stew, which makes it particularly suitable for mild fall temperatures, while the absence of meat makes it easier to prepare quickly for a weeknight dinner. Unlike most meat stews, this stew is best served right away when the vibrant green peas are just tender enough to snap between the teeth.

This recipe is based on the Hearty Vegetable Stew featured in Best Soups and Stews, a jam-packed recipe book by the editors of Cooks Illustrated featuring slow cooked dishes (and starchy sides) from around the world. I made a few adjustments, adding parsnips—which are beautiful and abundant this time of year, extra garlic and halving the quantity of balsamic vinegar.

The flavor of the stew, which is hearty enough to serve as a meal on its own, is characterized by the piney essence of fresh rosemary joined by a thymey zing and the earthiness of the mushrooms. The white wine is just enough to give the stew dimension, without overpowering the delicate flavors with booze, while the half-tablespoon of balsamic vinegar finishes it off with a subtle tang.

While the flavors of the stew will develop over the course of a few days, the root vegetables, particularly the potatoes, tend to reabsorb the stew’s liquids and become mushy. If you plan to savor this stew over the course of a week, I recommend adding a fistful of thawed frozen peas to each serving directly before reheating. Enjoy it with soft, spongy bread such as the deep-pan rosemary focaccia from Iggy’s Bakery—available at the farmers market, for sopping up the juices.

Hearty Vegetable Stew with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Parsnips


Yields eight servings

1 celery stalk (minced)

1 carrot (minced)

1 medium yellow onion (minced)

1 medium red onion (chopped)

10 ounces white mushrooms (halved)

10 ounces Portobello Mushrooms (halved and sliced horizontally)

8 ounces Hen of the Woods mushrooms (chopped into one inch pieces)

3 carrots (halved lengthwise and chopped into inch long segments)

2 large parsnips (halved lengthwise and chopped into inch long segments)

10 small read potatoes (halved or quartered depending on size)

1 tbs fresh rosemary (finely chopped, stems removed)

½ tbs dried thyme

4 cloves fresh garlic (minced)

1 whole bay leaf

1 cup canned unseasoned diced tomatoes

½ cup dry white wine

½ tbs balsamic vinegar

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1 tsp salt

2 tbs olive oil

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tbs cold water

1 tbs cornstarch

Chopped parsley for garnish

2 ½ cups vegetable stock


Set a large Dutch oven over the stovetop, add olive oil and set flame at medium. Add white onion, minced carrot, celery and sauté, stirring frequently, until lightly browned (about ten minutes).

Add chopped red onion and cook until soft (about five minutes). Stir in mushrooms and heat until the liquid they produce begins to evaporate (about ten minutes).

Sprinkle in the herbs, salt and garlic, mix and cook for 30 seconds before adding wine and deglazing the pan by scraping bits from the bottom and incorporating them into the mixture. Cook until wine is reduced by half.

Reduce heat to medium-low and pour in vegetable stock and chopped tomatoes. Add root vegetables, partially cover and simmer for approximately 45 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Mix one tablespoon of cornstarch with one tablespoon of water and stir into a fine paste. Stir paste into the stew and wait two minutes for cornstarch to thicken. Add more cornstarch-water paste until desired consistency is achieved.

Turn off the heat and stir in thawed peas, allowing them to blanch in the hot stew liquids for one to two minutes.

Add additional seasonings as necessary, stir in balsamic vinegar and serve immediately, garnished with fresh parsley.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

britt October 8, 2010 at 2:29 PM

I’ve never found a Hen. I did find a 4 lb. Chicken of the Woods (aka Sulphur shelf) in western CT. It was yummy. someday a hen.

Fathmina October 11, 2010 at 8:39 PM

Perhaps this hen would go lovely with Old Speckled Hen cream ale? And not just because of the name…it’s just a fantastic beer…and would go along with this fantastic recipe!

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