A few weeks ago I came across a large edible mushroom called Chicken of the Woods, I’d never seen one before but I’d heard my parents talk about it. Normally I’m a bit leery of eating wild mushrooms, if you misidentify something you can make yourself very sick. That’s the good thing about Chicken of the Woods: there’s no poisonous look alike! Although, some people say varieties that grow on eucalyptus and conifer trees can cause a little tummy upset so you may want to stick with the hardwood trees (I found mine on the root of a dead oak tree).
Chicken of the woods is a large mushroom that grows on the base of trees and on exposed roots. They’ll regrow in the same spot each year until the tree is dead and all the nutrients have been used. There are different species of Chicken of the Woods and they can range in color from bright orange (the most common) to a creamy white (like mine below). They’re most often found in the Summer and Fall months after a rainy period.
When I first found this Chicken of the Woods, it wasn’t quite ready to harvest so I checked on it every couple days until it was ready to pick. The brackets of the Chicken of the Woods should be tender and easy to slice or shred. To harvest it, I used a knife to cut it at it’s base. If you find one that is a bit too mature and parts of it have gotten too woody, you can still harvest some of the newer growth on the outer edges of the brackets. That should still be tender and perfect for harvest.
After I’d picked the mushroom we soaked it in the sink to clean it and get rid of any unwanted pests. Then we started dismantling it, cutting off each bracket one at a time and chopping the brackets into smaller pieces. This particular Chicken of the Woods was far too large for one meal so my mom used her vacuum sealer to package most of the mushroom into packs of 2 cups each (she had 6 packs when she was finished), then she put the packs in the freezer. You can also saute the mushroom in a little butter or oil and freeze it.
So, you may be wondering why a mushroom is called Chicken of the Woods. Someone at some point thought it tasted like chicken and the name just stuck. I don’t think it tastes like chicken but it has a similar texture, it shreds like chicken meat which makes it a great addition to chicken dishes. I wouldn’t substitute chicken totally with the mushroom but use it in addition to chicken, that way you can use less meat.
We had two delicious meals off of the mushroom (in addition to the 12 cups my mom froze!). The first one was a delicious creamy gravy with shredded chicken and mushroom poured over biscuits and the second one was a chicken and rice dish with the mushroom added in along with lots of yummy herbs. Both were delicious! You don’t need a special recipe for the Chicken of the Woods, just throw it in any chicken dish along with your chicken meat.
Happy mushroom hunting!