Good Eats: Chicken of The Woods
Morel season may be at an end, but that doesn't mean that wild mushrooms, in general, are done for the year. For these summer and fall months, it’s time to be on the lookout and forage for chicken of the woods. For all you foragers out there, be ready for this delicious and unique mushroom. Let's get into everything you need to know about looking for this delectable fungus.
We start off with some great news: chicken of the woods is nowhere near as difficult to find as morels are. These fungi always grow on tree bark, so they are often away from most woodland grasses and brush that morels tend to gravitate towards. Oaks are this mushroom's tree of choice, but that doesn't mean they can't grow on other types of trees either.
More good news is that chicken of the woods is incredibly easy to spot in the wilderness. They are often a pale to bright orange color which makes them easy to pick out through the neutral brown and green colors of the woods. There are almost no other fungi that are confused with 'chicken of the woods' due to its structure. It is often layered, and a cluster can be up to several feet in diameter. Another giveaway that what you've found is chicken of the woods are the pores on the bottom. This mushroom doesn't have gills like most other mushrooms of this build.
The best way to harvest them is to cut them away from the bark with a knife. The mushrooms are parasitic, so you’ll be helping the tree in the long run by removing them. They are best to harvest when they are still young and have a tender feel. As they age, their texture becomes firmer and woodier. After that point, they lose a lot of their potential with cooking.
The reason this mushroom is called, 'chicken of the woods' is due to its texture. It has a spongy and stringy texture that resembles that of chicken. The taste is generally a lemony, meaty taste. Some people believe that this makes it taste of chicken like its namesake, while others think it compares more to crab or lobster.
Now that you know what to look for and how to safely harvest chicken of the woods, let's move on to cooking and consuming. Due to the nature of this mushroom, cooking it like bird dishes offers a familiar taste of chicken with a completely unique consistency and earthy twist on a traditional poultry dish. This brings us to our recipe for today: chicken fried chicken of the woods.
The first thing you'll want to do is trim off the base where your mushroom attaches to the tree. This is the toughest part of the mushroom and won't be of much use while you're cooking. Always make sure to wash your ingredients thoroughly before cooking. In a bowl, combine flour with a pinch of paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper taste. Add your mushrooms into the mixture to coat, then place and coat them in a beaten egg wash (3 eggs), and finally toss the mushrooms back into your seasoned flour.
For frying, heat a pan and add ¼ cup of your preferred cooking oil with 2 tbsp of unsalted butter. Once heated, add your breaded chicken of the woods along with 1 clove of crushed garlic and a few sprigs of fresh thyme to the pan. Cook evenly on each side until golden brown. If the pan dries out, add more oil. Once golden brown, remove and salt to taste. Bravo, you have created your very own chicken fried chicken of the woods.
This amazing recipe is brought to you from Chef, Alan Bergo, otherwise known as the Forager Chef. If you want a more detailed version of this recipe, you can find it here. For more amazing recipes to compliment your foraging skills, visit chef Alan’s website at foragerchef.com.
Happy foraging, friends!
All photos in this blog post are credited to Alan Bergo, Forager Chef's website.