Brooklyn’s been squawking a lot about chickens lately, but you hear more about the trend of raising backyard birds than you do about foraging for the fungal variety. Chicken of the Woods, also known by its less tantalizing name Laetiporus sulphureus (or Sulphur Shelf…yum!), is also worth clucking about, as it’s in season now in your local forest, park, or maybe even your own backyard. And if you find a good one, young and tender (they get more brittle as they age), throw it into your knapsack and take it back to your kitchen. When I first saw this mushroom I assumed the name came from its appearance, with feathery edges reminiscent of the tawny-colored Buff Orpington poultry breed. But after trying a bite of the cooked mushroom, I was blown away by how much it tasted like chicken! Earthy, faintly-lemony flavor and meaty, almost muscle-y, texture make this a great meat alternative in a main course or simply an interesting seasonal side dish.
Know Your Chicken: These chickens are relatively easy to identify compared to other mushrooms as they don’t have any reported dangerous copycats. Growing mainly in eastern North American hardwood forests, these parasitic polypores show up above ground on the trunks of trees and can get remarkably large, some even weighing in at 50-100 pounds! When you see the mushroom’s yellow, fan-like fruit, it’s a sign that the fungus has launched a successful attack on the tree, and heart-rot is taking place beneath the bark. Mycological experts advise not eating specimens that have been growing on conifers as they may actually become poisonous when grown on this type of tree–decidedly not delicious! With that in mind, it’s advised with any specimen–even those not found on conifers–to first try a little taste of the cooked mushroom to make sure that you don’t have an adverse reaction to it. A small percentage of people have reported cases of nausea, vomiting, or intestinal distress upon ingesting the mushroom. And perhaps it goes without saying, but make sure you’re harvesting it from a relatively secluded area (i.e. not a dog park, if you catch my drift).
Last week, my friend and I were gifted a Chicken of the Woods from an experienced and trustworthy forager (thanks, Jon!), so we felt confident that preparing it for dinner would not result in a trip to the ER. We made a simple and extremely delicious preparation, which I lived to share with you here:
Drunken Chicken of the Woods
1 lb. Chicken of the Woods mushroom, cleaned and sliced into 1/4″ thick pieces
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 medium onion, 1/4″ dice
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Optional: freshly chopped herbs (such as thyme or oregano)
Directions: In a medium sautée pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When oil starts to become fragrant (before smoke point) add Chicken of the Woods, stirring to coat the mushroom. Cook for 5 minutes. Add onions, garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir, and cook for another 5-7 minutes until onion starts to brown. Add a ¼ cup wine and bring the mixture up to a simmer. Cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes, and then add the remaining ¼ cup of wine, stir, and simmer again. If the mushroom is still a little too tough after all of this liquid is absorbed, add more liquid and simmer longer. Otherwise, remove from heat and serve atop grilled or toasted crusty bread brushed with olive oil or butter, sprinkled with freshly chopped herbs.
Got more mushroom than you know what to do with? Here are a couple of other fun ideas I found on the interweb:
Southern-Fried Chicken of the Woods
Baked Chicken of the Woods with Capellini and Feta