All mushroom foragers know the feeling well. You’re walking through the woods, and glimpse something out of the corner of your eye. “Wait, was that? Is that?”
That moment of recognition, the thrill of the hunt, is genuinely addictive. And one of the most thrilling finds is Grifola Frondosa. Hen of the Woods. Ram’s Head . The fungus goes by many names, but when I found this oak tree, host to (count them) four copious clumps of it, I wasn’t thinking of any them. I was just thinking “YES!”
In Japan, they call this fungus Maitake – “dancing mushroom”. Having only seen it in books, I thought perhaps the name referred to the frilly, wavy outline of each cap. The mushroom did seem to have a look of cartoonish movement, even in still photographs. But no. At the foot of this tree, literally jumping for joy on a drizzly November morning, I realised – it’s not the mushroom that dances, it’s the person who finds it.
It’s just so big! Once I’d carefully sliced each clump from the tree, I could barely carry my haul back to my car on the other side of the forest. And the smell of it. Hen of the Woods doesn’t have a typically “mushroomy” scent. It’s more complex than that. Savoury and tangy, like a complex cheese almost. For this, and its tender yet substantial texture, it’s prized by chefs. And our chefs are no different. Speaking of complex flavours…
Another of Tom‘s virtuosic Friday night specials: Pan-seared Isle of Man Queen scallops and Scottish langoustines with broccoli puree, sauteed Hen of the Woods, crispy spelt and Amaretto buerre blanc.
This was a special special – as exciting to eat as the Hen was exciting to find. The mushroom (that’s it, hiding in the middle) brilliantly complemented the delicate texture of the seafood, and added to the unique, intoxicating, inspiring flavour of the whole dish.
Sadly, that’s probably the last Hen we’ll find this year, so I hope you were one of the lucky few who got to try this it at The Verulam Arms over the weekend!