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Is Maitake the New Shiitake?

            Maitake Frondosa is a pretty odd looking mushroom. No cap, no stem -- it looks more like an undersea coral than a fungus. The other common name for the mushroom is Hen-of-the-Woods, and it’s easy to see a resemblance to the ruffled feathers of a hen. The translation of maitake from the Japanese is “dancing mushroom” and there are two stories about how it got that name: one that the “feathers” appear to dance in the wind, the other that foragers danced from happiness when they found it. The second explanation seems the more likely, because maitake has a flavor and aroma to make anyone jump for joy.

            Gourmet Mushrooms, Inc. was the first commercial grower of shiitake in the United States. Founder Malcolm Clark brought Japanese growing methods to North America in the 1970s, and by the early eighties Gourmet Mushrooms was joined by a handful of other growers. Fresh shiitake gained acceptance relatively quickly because it was already in use as a dried mushroom. Gourmet Mushrooms stopped growing shiitake in the 1990s in order to concentrate on growing an expanded range and variety of mushrooms. By 2008 it was growing six different varieties, and in 2009 it added Maitake Frondosa. Overall the biggest seller in Gourmet Mushrooms’ lineup is the Trumpet Royale, a strain of king oyster, but of the many varieties of mushrooms which the company has introduced over the last four decades, no mushroom has achieved a more rapid or more enthusiastic acceptance than Maitake Frondosa. Why? Flavor! Maitake Frondosa, like our other varieties, is organically grown on a substrate which includes oak wood shavings, the natural food source for these mushrooms. Different farms use a variety of other substrates and growing methods. We believe that our Maitake Frondosa is the tastiest Maitake available. The aroma of the fresh mushrooms when the package is first opened tells the story. If the Maitake has a rich, sweet, forest smell with no hint of sharpness, then it is Gourmet Mushrooms’ Maitake Frondosa.

            The other big reason for the early adopters to rush to maitake is the good press that it has gotten as a mushroom for health. Maitake is at the top of the list of mushrooms used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and it is one of the better studied mushrooms in modern clinical trials. Gourmet Mushrooms emphasizes that all mushrooms (even the common white button mushroom) are functional foods, good sources of micronutrients and active biological compounds that support a healthy immune system. Maitake has been studied intensively in Japan where tests have shown it to have promise both as an immunoregulator and for its ability to control the growth of tumors. Maitake’s reputation as a health food is well deserved and when combined with its rich flavor it lives up to Gourmet Mushroom’s maxim that mushrooms are “Delicious Nutrition.”

 


 

 

It may still be summer, but Fall is just around the corner. Here is a savory (not sweet) bread pudding that will make you the star at any Holiday buffet.

           

Maitake Bread Pudding Recipe

recipe by Gourmet Mushrooms’ Chef Liaison Bob Engel

 

About 8 cups, cubed, brioche, challah or other egg bread (can substitute sweet French)

 

Using day or two old bread is best. If using fresh bread, lay out on sheet pan and toast in 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Let cool before using.

 

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound chopped Maitake Frondosa™ mushrooms or a mix of Gourmet Mushroom’s varieties

3 tablespoons chopped shallot

 

1 level teaspoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage

½ cup slivered green onion

 

1 1/2 cups each grated mature gouda (sometimes called “old gouda”) and romano cheeses

 

a dash of Worcestershire sauce

1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

9 large eggs

3 ½ cups half and half

 

Cube and dry the bread first.

 

Sauté the mushrooms and shallot in the olive oil until mushrooms are just slightly browned, then stir in the herbs and green onion. Toss together with the cubed bread and cheeses.

 

Mix the custard, then pour over the bread mixture. IMPORTANT: Let bread stand, folding every five minutes, until all of the custard is absorbed. Do not bake until the bread has taken up all (or almost all) of the liquid. This usually takes 15-20 minutes.

 

Bake in buttered casserole or pan (9x13) in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes.