Luckily, it’s mostly common knowledge that there’s some risk in eating mushrooms you might find in the wild. Even the most experienced mycologist, when confronted with a specimen, can be apprehensive without a thorough examination and perhaps a check of his/her mushroom guide.
I learned this first hand last weekend during a fun walk and talk, sponsored by The Trustees of Reservations, on hunting for wild mushrooms in the Menemsha Hills Reservation in Chilmark. The leader of the walk, Wesley Price, is the founder of the Cape Cod Mycological Society, and has over 30 years experience in the field. He had no hesitation in warning us of the dangers of an incomplete vetting process in finding edible wild mushrooms. Because of this quandary, I’ve decided to focus on a very well-known and broadly admired species of edible wild mushroom for this recipe. It also helps that one of the attendees on the walk found a giant one during our search!
I’m talking about the Maitake or what’s more commonly known as the “hen of the woods” mushroom. They can be very large and therefore used generously in many recipes. They have a wonderful earthy quality to them that can enhance the flavors in many dishes. The recipe I’ve chosen here didn’t call for mushrooms at first, but it looked so good that I decided to make it with the additional chunk of the “hen” we found on the walk. I also added some carrots because, well, who can ignore mom’s voice in their head telling you to remember to eat your vegetables?
Some of the things I love about this recipe and the resulting finished product is the tangy flavor the roasted lemons and splash of white wine give to the dish. And the use of fresh herbs kicks up the gastronomic pleasure a notch or two. Just a couple words of caution: If you’re lucky enough to find a big ‘ol hen of the woods yourself, make sure you wash it really well as it will have many nooks and crannies where “dirt” can hide. I made the mistake of thinking it was clean after the first pass under the faucet but much to my horror, as I was slicing into it, about 3 to 4 pillbugs ran for their lives out of its edges — yikes! I’d rather get my protein in more conventional ways, thank you.
And lastly, though the carrots lent a lovely color and sweetness to this dish, I regretfully didn’t chop them thin enough to cook thoroughly. I would suggest 1/4-inch thick rounds cut into half moons.
Roasted Chicken Thighs with Lemon, Thyme and Rosemary (with my additions of wild mushrooms and carrots)
Original recipe from NYT cooking by Florence Fabricant.
6 to 8 servings
12 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
1 medium onion, peeled, quartered vertically and sliced 1/4-inch thick vertically
1 cup peeled garlic cloves (about 40)
1 lemon cut in 1/4-inch-thick slices, seeded
15 fresh thyme sprigs
4 (3-inch) rosemary sprigs
2 tablespoons kosher salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 cups sliced maitake mushrooms
1 1/2 cups sliced carrots
Pat chicken thighs dry and place, skin side up, in single layer on baking sheet. Place in refrigerator, uncovered, for 8 hours or overnight to dry skin. Remove chicken from refrigerator at least 45 minutes before cooking.
Heat oven to 500 degrees. Spread onion slices, garlic cloves, mushrooms, and carrots in baking dish that can hold the chicken snugly in a single layer. Scatter lemon on the onion-garlic mixture and strew with thyme and rosemary sprigs.
Remove chicken from baking sheet and place on several layers of paper towels, skin side down. Sprinkle with half the salt and pepper. Turn thighs over and season with remaining salt and pepper. Transfer to baking dish skin side up. Arrange the bed of onions and garlic so they’re completely under the chicken.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a knife point. If skin is not a deep golden brown and crispy, turn on broiler and broil chicken close to heat a few minutes to crisp and brown it.
To serve, move chicken off the bed of onions, garlic, lemon and herbs. Discard lemon and spoon the rest of the ingredients, along with pan juices, onto a serving platter. Place chicken on top and serve.