Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are medium to large in size, averaging 5-25 centimeters in diameter and are broad, fan-shaped, and grow in multiple, overlapping brackets that look like miniature shelves on the sides of trees. The caps are smooth or slightly wrinkled and are bright orange and white when young, fading to a dull orange and then to completely white when mature. The cap is also slightly grooved with a suede-like feel and a rounded edge. Instead of gills, the underside is composed of white to sulfur-colored, tightly packed pores from which spores can be released. When cooked, Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are juicy, succulent, and meaty with a mild, lemony flavor that many compare to the taste of chicken, lobster, or crab.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are available in the late summer through early fall.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms, botanically classified as Laetiporus sulphureus, are brightly colored, edible mushrooms that are members of the Polyporaceae family. Also known as Chicken fungus, Chicken mushroom, and Sulphur Shelf, there are about twelve different species of Chicken of the Woods mushrooms that are visually indistinguishable yet are considered biologically distinct as a sibling species. The only way to distinguish one sibling species from another is using ecological factors like growing region and the wood on which it grows. The edible Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are found growing on dead or dying hardwood trees such as oak, cherry, or beech. There are some varieties that grow on conifers, eucalyptus, and cedar, but these should be avoided as they can absorb oils from the trees that may cause intense intestinal irritation. Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are a popular variety for their meaty texture and chicken-like flavor and are often used as a meat substitute in vegetarian dishes.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms contain potassium, vitamin C, fiber, vitamin A, and are believed to have antifungal and antibiotic properties.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are best suited for cooked applications such as frying, baking, sautéing, and blanching. They are also a popular meat substitute for chicken or tofu and can be used interchangeably in recipes. Before cooking, the mushrooms should be cleaned with a damp paper towel or cloth to remove dirt and debris. It is not recommended to place the mushroom in water as the surface is porous and will absorb excess moisture. Oil should also be used sparingly when cooking as it will be easily absorbed. Chicken of the Woods mushrooms should be cut into bite-sized pieces or strips and sautéed with wine and herbs, butter, or oil. They can also be baked or deep fried and served with a dipping sauce or sliced and cooked into risottos, curries, casseroles, egg dishes, rice dishes, soups, and stews. Chicken of the Woods pair well with asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, English peas, ramp bulbs, spinach, chive blossoms cilantro, garlic, onions, ginger, potatoes, coconut milk, tomato sauce, polenta, wild rice, white wine, and Monterey Jack cheese. They will keep up to a week when stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are also ideal for freezing once cooked, but when ready to use, do not thaw as it will cause the mushroom to become soggy. If foraging, use caution when trying to identify wild mushrooms. Unless there is one hundred percent certainty of a mushroom’s identification, do not eat or touch it.
Chicken of the Woods is considered a delicacy in the United States and is favored for its poultry or seafood-like flavor. In Germany and other parts of Europe, the mushroom is dried, powdered and added to flour to make bread. In Russia, Chicken of the Woods mushrooms have a long-fabled use as a natural antibiotic to help boost immunity. Traditionally, the mushroom has also been dried and powdered to use as a snuff.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms have been growing wild since ancient times and are primarily found growing in the hardwood forests of the eastern United States, east of the Rocky Mountains. Some varieties are also found along the western coast of North America and in Europe. Today Chicken of the Woods mushrooms can be found at local markets and specialty grocers, and there are also online kits that allow home gardeners to cultivate their own at home.
Description Courtesy of: SpecialtyProduce.com