Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg

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:
Chicken Salad
Southern-Fried Chicken of the Woods
Baked Chicken of the Woods with Capellini and Feta

For More Information about mushroom foraging check out some of these sources:
Mushroom Appreciation Blog
Cornell Mushroom Blog
Wildman Steve Brill
Steve Brill video

Join the Conversation


  1. Thanks for the recipe shoutout! I’m definitely going to have to try your recipe for drunken ones 🙂 Anything with wine is awesome, right?!

  2. Looked up your recipes as I now have some CoW and have been after some for some time. I was told of it by an old man and he told how nice it was.
    He also said that you slice a piece off a living plant and don’t rip it away and what is left will grow again and you haven’t killed the plant and it will produce more. This sounds like a very sustainable plant

    1. This is actually false. It is a heart rot fungus, not a plant and it parasites trees. Depending of which species of laetiporus will determine where on the tree it grows (either on the trunk shelf-like or at the base of the tree on roots). It will continue fruiting on the host tree until the tree is dead (and this fungus is always lethal to tree although it sometimes takes several years). What you harvest and eat is the fruiting body of the mycelium, so it doesn’t matter how you remove it from the tree. Just like whether you pluck an apple from a tree or cut the apple from the tree will not determine if apples fruit the following year.

  3. Try chicken of the woods sautéed in a red curry with coconut milk, broccoli, cauliflower, dried tomatoes, onions, spinach etc etc anything else fresh from the fall garden. Delicious gift from the woods!

  4. I added a bunch of sprigs of fresh thyme, half of cup of half and half, some water with vegetarian bouillon and corn starch. Made a lovely sauce.

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