Hen of the Woods

Grifola frondosa

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Also maitake (Japanese)

Whether foraged or farmed (as in the photo), this fluffy fungus is highly variable but almost always delightful. Autumnal and faintly gamy or garlicky in aroma, the nutty flesh is firm, a bit crumbly. Even cooked, it has a leafy, wild look and a dynamic tone—tender with an al dente bounce. Cultivated forms, weighing from ½ pound to 1½ pounds, are milder and considerably daintier than the wild, which can weigh from 3 to a reported 100 pounds per clump.

The “hen” is an aggregate of branched clusters of small, overlapping irregular “feathers” whose pale bases are compressed in a nearly solid mass. These leafy caps (the species name, frondosa, means leafy) are taupe, greige, or smoky brown, with light colored undersides.