I first had fried maitake mushrooms at RN 74, a chic lounge and restaurant at the base of the Millenium Tower in San Francisco and modeled after the Gare de Lyon station of the Paris metro. The bar area reminds me of a very upscale Starbucks complete with retro style lounge sofas intended to be intimate seating areas for you and your friends to enjoy your French-imported beer Kronenbourg or the specialty cocktail Pims 74. The Pims 74 is ginger beer served in a wine goblet with pomegranate seeds, cinnamon sticks and lemon slices in the glass–it looked a little like potpourri in a glass but was refreshing and sweet.
The restaurant area is surprisingly small but at a Michael Mina eatery, it’s all about the service that makes you feel as if you are the only patrons dining there. Service was spot on, water glasses filled constantly, napkins folded upon return from the restroom and staff knowledgeable about the food and drink.
The tempura fried Maitake mushrooms were the high point of my meal. We were trying to figure out how something like mushroom with such high moisture content could be fried so light and airy (like we were going to find maitake mushrooms at the corner Safeway); I’m guessing egg white and rice flour batter and deep fried for a couple of minutes at a really high temperature.
Years later, I found the recipe here and even better, I found the friggin’ Maitake mushroom! No, not at Safeway but at a local Asian grocery store, Ranch 99. Then Ranch 99 stopped carrying them and I again found them at another nearby market, Marina. This dish cost $10 five years ago and it is $13 now, per Yelp. The rice flour and three ounces of mushroom cost $2 each. Do the math. Or not. Just know that it’s way cheaper. And so good and easy to make!
Recipe adapted from sfgate.com
- 4 to 6 ounces maitake mushrooms (also called Hen of the Woods; see Note)
- Rice bran oil or canola oil, for frying
- 2 ounces white rice flour (about 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon)
- 1 ounce cornstarch (about 1/3 cup, less 4 teaspoons)
- 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 1/2 to 4 ounces cold sparkling water + more if needed
- Fine salt to taste (see Note)
- Trim maitakes if needed, then break them into 2-bite clusters; set aside. Fill a deep pot with about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of oil and preheat to 375 degrees-380 degrees.
- Meanwhile, combine all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. When the oil temperature reaches (or is very close to) 375 degrees, add the sparkling water all at once to the dry ingredients, lightly stirring with a rubber spatula until just combined. Do not overwork the batter, which should be the consistency of heavy cream. If you prefer a thinner batter, add another tablespoon of sparkling water. (A thinner batter will remain crisp for a longer time.) Immediately batter the mushrooms.
- As you lift the mushrooms out of the batter, lightly scrape them over the edge of the bowl to remove excess. Working in batches as needed, carefully place in the oil and fry until batter is crisp and mushrooms are lightly golden and cooked through, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Be careful not to overload the oil with too many mushrooms all at once because the oil temperature can rapidly drop. Turn mushrooms over if needed to brown both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider and drain briefly on paper towels before sprinkling with salt to taste. Serve immediately.
Note: You can also use oyster, cremini or similar mushrooms – just be sure that they are about the size of an index finger so there is a good ratio of batter to mushroom. If you try chanterelles, select ones with thin caps, and be sure they are fairly dry. RN74 serves the tempura with flavored salts. To flavor salt, whir it with ingredients like tangerine/orange zest, which provide an aromatic lift. Truffle salt is also great. I served mine with a side of ponzu sauce.