Every now and then, I’ll cook something on a weeknight, something I put together on the fly without much thought, and it ends up being really, really good. When that happens, I turn to Steve and using my finest imitation of Julia Child’s voice I exclaim “How do I do it?” It never fails to make us laugh.
I made today’s recipe a few weeks ago and since then I’ve made it another three or four times, each time being astonished at how good it is. I had never cooked maitake mushrooms before. They are also known as hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and they are a type that must be cooked to be eaten. Their pompom-like fronds separate easily by hand and when they are sautéed in oil or butter they get crispy on the edges but remain satisfyingly meaty elsewhere.
It turns out that they also pair perfectly with caramelized fennel. Add some garlic and lemon zest in the mix, and you have a mouthwatering side dish. The flavor is deep. There’s sweetness and acidity but only as side notes. The star is the rich, umami flavor that both the mushroom and the fennel (along with the garlic) provide.
If you can find maitake mushrooms, you have to make this dish. It’s easy to put together and I guarantee that as soon as you take the last bite, you’ll start planning to make it again.
Sautéed Fennel and Maitake Mushrooms
Makes 2-3 servings as a side dish
Note: Maitake mushrooms are usually grown on oak so they are clean. But if you want to wash yours, do it right before you cook them. Mine are grown organically on pieces of oak so I don’t wash them.
1 head of maitake (hen-of-the woods) mushrooms (about 6-8 inches in diameter)
1 medium sized fennel head
2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
zest of one lemon (preferably done on a microplane)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
Remove the tough core of the maitake mushrooms, if there is any. With your hands, gently separate the fronds into bite size pieces. Set aside.
Cut the fennel head lengthwise into four sections. Remove and discard the core from each section and then slice it thinly with a sharp knife.
In a large sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat and add the sliced fennel. Sauté, stirring often until the fennel has caramelized, with the edges starting to brown, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the fennel from the pan.
Depending on how much olive oil is left in your pan, add more to have about 3 tablespoons. Heat it over medium high heat and add the mushrooms. Sauté until they are cooked through and the edges are just starting to crisp, about 4-5 minutes (add more olive oil if it looks too dry). Add the chopped garlic and sauté for another 30-60 seconds until the garlic starts to smell.
Add the cooked fennel back in the pan, as well as the lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste. Give it a good stir for a few seconds and remove from the pan onto serving plates.
You can squeeze some lemon juice on top if you want some additional acidity. Serve immediately.