Canada’s 100 Best - - On The Pass -

If you like ex­otic mush­rooms as much as we do, you prob­a­bly know the maitake mush­room by its most com­mon name, hen-of-the-woods—or pos­si­bly ram’s head or sheep’s head. And if you do not for­age them your­self, come fall, you will have at least bought a clus­ter or two down at your lo­cal famer’s mar­ket. But we’ll wa­ger you’ve never seen any quite like this: round and per­fect of form, plump in each and every cap, nicely trimmed, pris­tine and un­blem­ished.

We hadn’t ei­ther un­til un­ex­pect­edly one day this sum­mer, three of them sat on the bar of the C100B test kitchen, rest­ing in snug cake boxes, the bases wrapped in tis­sue. Ev­i­dently, they were cul­ti­vated, not for­aged, as each had a nearly uni­form mass of a just over a kilo. But this made them no less im­pres­sive, as the mush­room is no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to grow.

“In Ja­pan, they call him the maitake whis­perer,” said Norimi Sakamoto, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment man­ager at Shogun Maitake, with a re­spect­ful nod to her boss, CEO Yoshi­nobu Odaira, who was sit­ting silently next to her.

Well, there is no ques­tion that Odaira is a maitake ex­pert. He left Ja­pan to set up shop in Lon­don, Ont., in part to pur­sue a study with Me­mo­rial Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter on the mush­rooms’ re­mark­able health prop­er­ties (they are loaded with anti-ox­i­dants, among other virtues). But the main thing is to get peo­ple eat­ing them, through restau­rants and spe­cialty stores.

Shogun’s black maitake take 100 days to grow to ma­tu­rity. As mush­rooms go they are things of beauty. That of course is a no­tion de­fined by the be­holder: here­abouts, we call them hen-of-the-woods be­cause the caps clus­ter and over­lap like a chicken’s tail feathers; in Ja­pan, the “mai” be­fore the “take” (mush­room) means “danc­ing,” be­cause to the Ja­panese, the clus­ters of caps are in­stead rem­i­nis­cent of the wav­ing hands and flut­ter­ing sleeves of a gag­gle of ki­mono-clad danc­ing girls.

Ei­ther way you like to think of them, we rec­om­mend a driz­zle of olive oil, some salt, a good sear in a cast-iron pan, and then fin­ish­ing them on a slow char­coal grill, brush­ing them as you go with a mix of sake, mirin and soy. Fin­ish with a squeeze of le­mon, and en­joy.

They are di­vine—and catch­ing on fast. In Toronto alone just weeks af­ter be­com­ing avail­able they popped up on the menu at Ian Robin­son’s Ja­panese bistro Skippa, Dandylion and Nota Bene—and in Mon­treal, at our two favourite Maisons (Publique and Boulud).




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