Hen of the Woods (Maitake) mushrooms, definitely top our list of favorite varieties of mushrooms out there! We buy them any time we can find them in stores and make so many tasty meals with them like this delicious Hen of the Woods Pasta with Creamy Tarragon Sauce. The Hen of the Woods mushrooms in this pasta recipe are beyond mouthwatering and will have you wanting more and more.
What are Hen of the Woods mushrooms?
Hen of the woods can be foraged or cultivated, and are a bold-flavored versatile type of mushroom that are among our very favorite varieties. The have a bit of a meaty texture that is savory with an earthy flavor. They are also described to have a sweet and nutty flavor, which is perfect in this mushroom pasta recipe!
Hen of the Woods Mushrooms go by many different names, most often maitake, which means “dancing mushrooms” in Japanese. You may see them called kumotake or, in Italy, signorina. They go by several other, less common names as well. They are brown and gray and are fan shaped. Although similar in name, Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are completely different in color, shape and flavor, so don't confuse these two varieties.
In the wild, it is not uncommon to find clusters of Hen of the Woods Mushrooms that weigh over 10 pounds! This variety of mushroom is also quite forgiving when cooked, so they can be used in virtually any application that calls for mushrooms.
Where to Find Hen of the Woods Mushrooms
If you are into foraging, Hen of the Woods are found in the northern parts of North America, Japan, China, and in Europe. They most often grow on the base of oak trees in wooded areas. These mushrooms are foraged in autumn, but they can be cultivated any time of year with the proper equipment. They are not the easiest to cultivate, so the price can be relatively high when compared to some other mushroom varieties.
Since we know literally nothing about foraging, we buy these mushrooms at specialty grocery stores and farmer’s markets. If you are in Texas, Central Market usually carries these throughout the year. Some Asian grocery stores, like Super H Mart, will carry them from time to time as well.
What’s in this pasta recipe? And Substitutions
In addition to pasta, the following ingredients make up the delicious Tarragon Cream Sauce. This pasta dish is vegetarian.
- Hen of the Woods Mushrooms (Maitake mushrooms)
- Unsalted Butter
- Olive Oil
- Shallot and Garlic
- Dry White Wine
- Salt and Pepper
- Balsamic Vinegar
Hen of the woods mushrooms:
These are, of course, the star of this recipe. But if you can’t find them, use another wild mushroom like oyster mushrooms. And if you can’t find any wild mushrooms, this recipe will still be good with cremini mushrooms (baby bellas) or shiitake mushrooms.
Shallot and Garlic:
These aromatics are great natural pairings for mushroom cream sauces. They are quite subtle in this recipe, but add to the overall flavor and depth in the cream sauce.
Dry White Wine:
We use Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, but you can use a different dry wine if you want. The wine balances the sauce and delivers a great flavor.
The capers add a bright and briney little punch to the final dish, which we absolutely love here!
One of the best herbs to pair with mushrooms, especially in a cream sauce. The taste is somewhat similar to fennel or anise, and can be described as tasting sweet and mildly like licorice. If you are not a licorice fan, don’t let this description deter you! In the cream sauce with all the other flavors of this dish, the tarragon rounds balances the dish and adds a slightly sweet note that is absolutely fantastic with the mushrooms!
If you love tarragon, check out our recipe for Poached Halibut with Tarragon Cream Sauce as well!
Balsamic vinegar is the secret weapon that delivers the final rounding out of the dish. Try the sauce before and after adding this ingredient and you will experience the magic it adds to the final dish!
Homemade Pappardelle Pasta
Pappardelle is a type of pasta shape that is a long, flat, wide noodle. Pappardelle is usually between ⅝” and ¾” (16-19mm) wide with varying widths found regionally throughout Italy.
Typically, homemade pappardelle is made with eggs and wheat flour. This pasta is most often served with a meat or game ragù, but you can find many different recipes using this pasta shape.
In this recipe, we love the substantial size of this pasta with the rich flavors of the hearty mushroom cream sauce. The use of eggs changes the texture of pasta significantly. Although egg pasta is preferred by some, pasta without eggs is just as well-loved and will work great here too. In this case, the silky texture of the pappardelle egg pasta is an outstanding accompaniment to the rich sauce loaded with hen of the woods mushrooms.
Ready to make your own pasta? Check out our recipe for Homemade Pasta! It will change your life!
Can you freeze homemade egg pasta?
Yes! You can freeze raw homemade pasta and enjoy it within 3 months. When you are ready to make your pasta dish, simply cook the noodles straight from the freezer. DO NOT let the noodles thaw first, or they will stick together and become a mushy blob. Frozen pasta often takes an additional 1-2 minutes to cook compared to fresh (never frozen) pasta.
Can I use store-bought pasta instead of making it from scratch?
Yep! Simply follow the cooking times on your package of store-bought pasta for al dente. Often, factory-made pappardelle will not contain eggs.
Tips for Making the Creamy Sauce
Cream sauces are quite easy to make. There are very few ways to completely ruin a cream sauce so there’s no need to be timid! A few tips, however, can turn a good cream sauce into a great one.
- Stir the sauce semi-often. It’s unlikely that you’d burn the cream, but it’s always a good idea to stir the sauce several times during cooking.
- Be patient. The sauce will tell you when it’s ready. If the cream is runny, then give it time to reduce into a thick, silky sauce that coats the back of a spoon. Cranking up the heat to high and rushing the process will be a flavor sacrifice, so don’t do it!
- Layering in the flavors makes a good sauce even better! Layering the flavors like we do in this recipe with the shallot and garlic, then the wine, then the cream, will result in a much more complex and interesting sauce than simply reducing cream and some herbs and spices all at once.
We hope that you enjoy this recipe for Hen of the Woods Pasta with Creamy Tarragon Sauce! If you give this recipe a try, let us know how it turned out in the comments below. If you loved this recipe, please give it a 5 star rating and share your final dish on Instagram @cooking_with_wine!
Looking for more delicious pasta recipes? Check these out:
- Marsala Mushroom Casarecce Pasta
- Fettuccine with Winter Spiced Cream Sauce and Rosemary Sage Meatballs
- Baked Rigatoni with Tomato Herb Meat Sauce
Hen of the Woods Pasta with Creamy Tarragon Sauce
- 1 Large frying pan
- 1 Large pot
- 1 collander
- 8 ounces pappardelle pasta or 1 recipe Homemade Pasta, cut into pappardelle
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin
- 1 small shallot finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 8 -10 ounces hen of the woods mushrooms bite-sized pieces
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch black pepper
- 3 ounces dry white wine
- 2 cups heavy cream
- A few drops of good balsamic vinegar ⅛ teaspoon or less
- 1 tablespoon capers rinsed and dried
- 1 tablespoon tarragon finely chopped
- Start by heating a large pot of water over high heat. While it comes to a boil, start the sauce.
- For the sauce, heat a large frying pan over medium heat, add the butter and allow it to melt completely. Next, add the shallot and cook until it begins to brown, then add the oil and garlic for about 15 seconds, stirring constantly.
- Next, add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook. The mushrooms will soak up the liquid, begin to brown a little and then release some moisture. If you need a little more oil at this point you can use a teaspoon or so, but the mushrooms soaking up all of the liquid is normal and you want them to be golden brown.
- Once the mushrooms start to brown, add the wine. Cook until the wine has almost completely evaporated/reduced. Next, add the cream and stir. Cook the sauce until it becomes thick and has the desired consistency for your pasta - this will take approximately 15 minutes depending on the size of your pan (larger pan will take less time).
- Once the sauce has thickened, stir in the balsamic vinegar, capers, and tarragon. Taste for seasoning and add a little kosher salt if desired to taste. Keep the sauce on very low heat until your pasta is ready, stirring occasionally.
- Prepare to cook your pasta by first adding a large spoonful of kosher salt to the boiling water. When the sauce is completely done, drop the fresh pasta into your large pot of salted water and cook until al dente (see note for store-bought pasta). This should take about 2-3 minutes. Drain the water from the pappardelle and transfer pasta into the pan with the sauce. If your sauce is too thick, add a bit of the pasta water before you drain the pasta until you reach the desired consistency. Stir the cooked pasta in the sauce to combine and serve!