Using Hen-of-the-Woods AKA Maitake
For the next few weeks, we’ll be eating lots of mushrooms. Wild ones. I picked this ingredient (entire category, actually) for my 2nd ingredient spotlight, because 1. wild mushrooms are in season here in Massachusetts (technically they can be plucked year round), and 2. because I believe mushrooms are usually people’s primordial thought (at least it’s mine) of a meat replacement when going about “vegetarianizing” some of their favorite comfort foods. Because it’s such a widely used vegetarian item, and there are already so many mushroom/meat swaps out there (i.e. portobello burgers) I wanted to push past that narrow scope to explore some out-of-my–own-box ways to eat mushrooms.
“Hen-of-the-woods”?: Hen-of-the-woods-mushrooms, or maitake mushrooms, grow wild in beautiful bouquets typically around the base of dead oak or elm trees (no manure for these babies) and can be cultivated and foraged anytime of year. (Eric is holding oyster mushrooms. The maitake are on the countertop) They’re polypore mushrooms that flower with petal-like buds and have soft, feathery underbellies (which is probably where they got the name, resembling ruffled hen feathers). They’re naturally umami-rich as they contain L-glutamate . . . and so I’ve fallen deeply in love with them already ! If you don’t have access to maitake, however, oyster mushrooms could work equally as well.
Cleaning Maitake: Brush them off with a damp cloth to clean away any excess dirt. (Rinsing them under water isn’t necessary, because again, they aren’t grown in manure, and since mushrooms are as porous as a sponge, any excess water they absorb will make their texture tougher when cooked.) Remove their big, hunky stem. Those are very tough too, and utilize just the pretty buds.
Gua Bao or Steamed Buns: Traditionally Taiwanese gua bao are these glorious, almost translucent, pillow-soft bread buns cooked in a wooden steamer and then stuffed with a thick slice of sweet and salty braised pork belly or other meat, sandwiched between some crunchy crushed peanuts and a little pickled veg for some bright and acidic pungency at the end. We are obviously not going to take the traditional route this time, starting with some ingredient changes in the fluffy buns themselves. Often times the buns are kneaded with animal lard. Today I’m using coconut oil (don’t worry you won’t taste it), and then I’m replacing the white bread flour with white whole wheat flour.
What is “White” Whole Wheat Flour, you ask?: It’s a whole grain flour made from a white-colored grain instead of the more common, red grain that creates the whole wheat flour we all know. The white whole wheat flour has a much milder flavor and isn’t as grainy as regular whole wheat, so it produces results a little closer to a AP white flour. And this is why it has become my go to!
My Method: I’m first soaking my mushrooms in a rich soy ponzu marinade, then breading them with brown rice flour so when I bake them in the oven they get extremely crunchy–brown rice flour is great for that! I’m then taking those crispy baked pedals and laying them atop a considerable schmear of sweet and tangy hoisin, alongside some pickled cukes and a wad of spicy kimchi–pickled cabbage. And all that happens on the inside of my whole wheat steamed buns.
Notes about the buns: the gua bao recipe I’m sharing will create some excess buns, but these freeze fine after you’ve first steamed them off. Just remove them frozen from the freezer, and re-steamed a second time to defrost them before having at them. I should also say to all the non-bakers out there, these delicious buns are available at Asian grocery stores also, so there is no need to make them from scratch if you don’t want to or don’t have the time.
Here’s how I did it:
Equipment: 1 steamer (I used stainless steel one), mixing bowls and sheet pans, parchment paper cut into little 4″X4″ squares (don’t need to be perfect! but this is what the buns sit on in the steamer)
Gua Bao or Steamed Buns:
- 2 tsp instant active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup warm water (115 degrees F)
- 2 cups white whole wheat flour
- 3 Tbsp coconut oil, slightly softened plus more for oiling
- 3 Tbsp pure cane sugar
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp tamari
- 2 tbsp mirin
- 2 tbsp ponzu
- 1 tbsp agave
- black pepper to taste
- 1 lb of hen of woods, cleaned and stems removed
- 3/4 cup brown rice flour
- oil for drizzling (I used olive oil)
- Ziplock bag
- 3 mini cucumbers 1 cup thinly sliced cucumbers
- 5 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp pure cane sugar
- Hoisin Sauce
- Spicy Kimchi
- Chopped Cilantro
- Chopped Scallions (optional)
- Crushed peanuts (optional)
Make the Bao Dough: In a large mixing bowl add the warm water, then add the yeast and allow for 8-10 minutes to bloom. Add the flour, coconut oil, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and lightly knead with your hands until the dough comes together into a ball. Continue to knead for another 10-12 minutes or until the dough bounces back to the touch. Brush a clean bowl with coconut oil, and place the dough in the bowl, turning over to coat completely, and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Keep in a cool dry place (like the oven or microwave-not on, of course) to rise and double in size -about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Roll the Bao: Punch the dough down and cut into 20 equal pieces (more or less depending on how thick you like your steamed buns). Roll them into little balls in your palm then roll them out into 4 inch ovals, brush the tops with a little coconut oil, then fold over on themselves and onto a sheet pan. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise again in a warm dry place for another hour, or until they’ve doubled in size.
Marinate the Mushroom/Pickle the Cucumbers: While the dough is rising, marinate the mushrooms and pickle the cucumbers. In a medium bowl whisk together the tamari, mirin, ponzu, agave, and black pepper to taste. Add the mushrooms and let marinate for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally. In a separate bowl, add the thinly sliced cucumbers, rice wine vinegar, and salt to taste, and toss together to make sure all the cucumbers are well coated.
The leaves can grow very large like this. If you get them when they’re smaller, just keep them in bundles for easier assembly.
Bake the Mushrooms: Once the mushrooms are done marinating, lightly drain them from the liquid (some leftover marinade is ok) and add them to a Ziploc baggie. Dump in the brown rice flour, zip the bag, and shake to coat the mushrooms completely. Dump onto a lined baking sheet, drizzle with some oil, and bake in the oven at 450 degree for 25-30 minutes or until super crispy and brown.
Cook the Bao Buns: Place the risen buns on little cut sheets of parchment paper approx 4″X4″(this helps to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot) and place in the steamer (I placed a steamer with a lid on top of a pot of boiling water) to cook for 8-10 minutes. When done, remove the buns and begin assembling the baos.
Assemble the Baos: Open the flap of the bun, and spread the bottom with hoisin, then the pickled cucumber, then a couple leaves of crunchy mushrooms, some spicy kimchi, and top with chopped cilantro and scallions, and/or peanuts. Continue with the rest of the steamed buns, and serve!
Current Reading: Stephen Kotier and Jamie Wheal’s Stealing Fire
Not going to lie… the recipes that I used to make for this blog were…shall I say it? Clumsy AF. People hip to the life of food blogging know the amount of work that can go into creating a single, decent story to share, but more annoyingly, how many hats one must wear to do it. Food stylist, photographer, R+D, dishwasher, social butterfly, computer-coder, food-seeker, person-with-money-to-keep-buying-food. It’s hard to start off with banging recipes, that, shall we say this too? …have been tested more than that one time you went flying through it on a spurt of weekend inspo. So I will take a moment to apologize for some of my previous recipes that hadn’t gotten it altogether yet. They will eventually be repaired for easier use, but until then I will just celebrate my newfound flow with new recipes, that have bypassed all the wobbliness of the training wheel stage, and landed in a much tastier spot. Also. Read this book. It’ll elaborate a little better.