Like the oyster mushrooms I wrote about in my last post, Chicken of the Woods is another great wild mushroom species for beginning foragers. It’s relatively easy to identify, and has only a few look-alikes.
What’s more, Chicken of the Woods has the texture and taste of real chicken, making it an excellent meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans.
Chicken of the Woods are found in the spring through the fall in most areas. Look for these overlapping, orange, shelf-like mushrooms on living and dead trees, particularly oaks.
There are two species of chicken mushrooms. Laetiporus cincinnatus has a cream-colored underside, while Laetiporus sulphureus has a yellow underside and is also known as the Sulphur Shelf. The chicken mushroom with the white underside is generally thought to be the tastier of the two. Laetiporus cincinnatus often grows above roots at the base of oak trees, while Laetiporus sulphureus grows directly on the wood.
Hunt With An Expert
As with all foraging, the safest way to learn how to find Chicken of the Woods is to go hunting with an expert before heading out on your own. There are a few inedible, shelf-like mushrooms that beginners sometimes confuse with Chicken of the Woods, such as Hapalopilus croceus, Inonotus, and Bondarzewia berkeleyi. Make sure to compare images of these copycats to your foraging haul, so you don’t end up with something inedible or even potentially poisonous on your plate.
Chicken of the Woods are tastiest when they are very fresh. Look for the soft, velvety, fleshy stage and avoid older, brittle mushrooms. If a slab of the mushroom snaps like damp chalk when you break it off of the tree, it’s too old to eat.
The best way to cook Chicken of the Woods is to cut the meaty lobes into 1/2-inch wide strips and cook them like you would chicken pieces. Substitute this mushroom in any recipe that calls for chicken, tofu, tempeh, seiten, or wild mushrooms (but note that this thick mushroom takes longer to cook than more delicate varieties).
I was lucky enough to find some very young and tender Chicken of the Woods last week. I decided to grill them and serve the mushrooms as an appetizer.
Grilled Chicken of the Woods
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds of Chicken of the Woods mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and cut into 1/2-inch wide strips
- Preheat a charcoal grill.
- Combine garlic, parsley, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
- Brush the mushrooms with the parsley oil.
- Grill the mushrooms over medium-hot coals. Baste often with the parsley oil and turn as necessary, until done (about 10 minutes).
- Serve hot or at room temperature.
For more information on Chicken of the Woods, visit:
- Mushroom-Collecting.com’s Chicken of the Woods Page
- The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Edible Mushrooms Page (look under “Sulfer Shelf.”)