Most of my home cooking inspiration comes from meals I’ve had out at restaurants. That’s my favorite part of eating food made by talented chefs—that wow factor they manage to impart on simple ingredients.
Nate Hereford, chef of the now closed Niche restaurant, turned me on to Hen-of-the-woods (also known as maitake) mushrooms a few years back. Up until that point, I was barely ever eating mushrooms. Every recipe seemed to taste the same. He proved me wrong. So wrong. That mushroom, cooked in a chorizo-spiced butter, is still the greatest I’ve had.
It was a meal at Publico this fall that inspired the recipe below. Chef Brad Bardon grilled maitakes directly over the coals of the restaurant’s hearth, leaving the edges of the mushroom crispy and charred, but the inside tender. Bardon paired it with a spicy red chimichurri and creamy tortilla grits. I loved it, but wanted to make a less labor intensive version at home, because I’m lazy.
My version gets tahini instead of grits and a spicy red harissa instead of chimichurri. It’s simple as can be, but a welcome change to your standard sauteed mushroom dish.
The measurements aren’t precise on this—do what fits your tastes best. You can find Hen-of-the-woods/maitake mushrooms at most groceries these day. I typically buy mine at Whole Foods or one of the Asian groceries.
Serves 4 or 5 as a side
If you’re using a charcoal grill, which I prefer, get your fire started. I prefer all the coals to be on one half of the grill, so that side is extremely hot. If you’re using a gas grill, pre-heat it on high.
Pull or slice the mushroom into smaller portions, keeping the base intact. You are going to be grilling these, so you want to have something large enough that it won’t fall through the grate or burn completely. If you have a full maitake in front of you, compare to my photos.
Place the maitake wedges on a baking sheet and pour olive oil all over them, then flip them and do it again. You’re going to want to use more olive oil than you think is necessary to keep them moist; they soak it up like a sponge. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
Once the grill is hot, put the mushrooms down. They only need to cook for 3-4 minutes per side. Expect flare ups because of the oil. If any threaten to char too much, move them to a less hot part of the grill.
Remove from the grill. Spoon tahini onto the plate, then put the mushrooms over. Dollop harissa on top. Drizzle with just a tiny bit of sesame oil, then finish with sesame seeds.