Chicken of the woods mushroom, that is, a.k.a. Laetiporus species.
It’s a cliche in the food and foraging worlds to say that something “tastes like chicken,” but Chicken (capitalized because that’s how us mushroom hunters refer to it, with special emphasis and usually leaving out the “of the woods” part) actually does taste remarkably like chicken. Although its flavor is gently mushroomy, its color and texture when cooked are similar to the fowl of the same name.
Note that this is a different mushroom from Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa), another choice, fowl-named mushroom that is also in season now.
Chicken, the mushroom, is fairly easy to spot. While other summer-through-fall mushrooms hide out among fallen brown leaves or on logs, camouflaged in the same colors as those leaves and logs, Chicken parades its bright mix of orange, yellow and creamy hues in a way that can catch your eye from a distance.
Chicken grows in overlapping caps on trees, logs and stumps. It has pores rather than gills, and a white spore print. The flesh of Chicken is creamy white, pink, or light orange. Size for a clump of Chicken can be anywhere from fist-sized to 2 feet across depending partly on how old it is when you find it.Also sometimes called sulphur shelf, this is a great edible mushroom for beginners to learn because there isn’t really anything else out there that looks exactly like it. Novices might possibly confuse Chicken with a mushroom called Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi), but that mushroom lacks Chicken’s bright orangey-yellow hues.
There is also a different species known as fried chicken mushroom (Lyophyllum decastes), but it’s a cap and stem mushroom with gills that doesn’t look anything like Laetiporus. Both Berkeley’s polypore and fried chicken mushroom are edible – they just don’t taste as good as Laetiporus in my opinion.
People who think they don’t like mushrooms often love Chicken of the woods. I’ve converted several friends who were myco-skeptics into being willing to try other wild mushrooms because they enjoyed this one so much.Once the weather turns wintery cold, Laetiporus will disappear until next year. Where I live in Brooklyn, NY I find it through mid-October at least. Ideally, you'll find a young Chicken that is still very tender. Older Chicken mushrooms tend to be tough even when they are stewed for a long time. I dry and powder those older Laetiporus mushrooms. Use the Chicken powder in combination with other mushrooms to boost the shroomy flavor of risottos and soups.
Chicken of the Woods Mushroom Creamy Pasta Sauce
Yield 4 servings
1 1/2 lbs. cleaned and finely chopped chicken of the woods mushroom
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
4 Tbsp. butter (or veg. oil)
1/4 cup dry white wine or sherry
3 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 cups milk (vegans can leave this out and double the amount of stock)
1 1/2 cups mushroom or vegetable stock
Several sprigs fresh, or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1. Melt 1 Tbsp. of the butter in a skillet over low heat. Add the mushrooms and shallot and cook, stirring often, until they have first released any liquid and then reabsorbed it, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook for another 5 – 10 minutes.
2. Combine the milk (if using) and stock in a small pot and heat to a simmer.
3. In a separate medium sized pot, melt the remaining 3 tbsp. of the butter over low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the hot milk/stock mixture a little at a time (if you dump it all in at once, it will clump).
4. Add the thyme, and return to the stove and simmer over medium-high heat for 5 – 10 minutes, stirring vigorously and often, until it starts to thicken. Add the mushrooms and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Serve over any cooked pasta, but fettuccine is especially good here. Go lightly with the grated cheese.
Always be 100 percent certain of your identification before eating any wild plant or mushroom.
Leda Meredith teaches foraging and food preservation skills internationally. You can find out about her upcoming classes and her books at her website, watch her foraging and food preservation videos on her YouTube channel, and find her food preservation recipes and tips here.
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