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Fungal Food: Chicken of the Woods

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I’m going to start this post off with a warning: Never ever ever eat a mushroom you don’t know what is. Like, seriously; if you are 95% sure of what you are picking, put it back down and walk away or get somebody knowledgeable to help you figure out for sure what you’ve got. I will not have your illness or death on my hands.

Ok, now that that is out of the way:

Wild mushrooms are the best! If you have only ever had Portobello mushrooms or white mushrooms from the store you have no idea what so ever you are missing. Also, forays can be a fun and exciting way to explore the world around you. You never notice all of the tiny things growing until you really look. Many regions have groups of well-versed mycology enthusiasts that will gladly help you learn and also serve as an expert to make sure you don’t harvest anything bad for you. Just type something like “Mushroom foray in (insert you area).” into the Google and you will be set in no time.

Throughout the year you will find different and delicious mushrooms, each with its own taste, texture, aroma, and preparation demands.

Recently I found a mushroom I have been searching after for quite some time, famed not only for its taste, but for its ability to be prepared in a large variety of ways: the chicken of the woods. The chicken of the woods is named because it has a very meaty texture, a great flavor, and because you can fry it, bake it, sauté it, or even cube it up for soup; basically you can cook it anyway you cook chicken. Some people actually use it as a chicken substitute.

Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, is a polypore (it has a tube structures for spores, not gills) that grows on hardwood trees and logs. It is easily identified, once you are familiar with it (Seriously if you don’t know, let it go.), by its thick yellow and orange flesh. It normally grows as a large shelf mushroom that can be startling if you have never seen; but as you can see with my specimen below, it doesn’t always bracket out.

The bright color makes a chicken of the woods easy to spot, however not necessarily easy to find. I had been trying to get a specimen for the past few years to no avail. That finally changed last week. I was leaving work when a bright yellow blob growing at the base of a tree. I wasn’t sure, so I swung around the block… It was what I thought! Yass!

My view from the road.
My view from the road.

 

growing close
This is my chicken of the woods close up. It doesn’t usually grow this clumped up, but we have been having a lot of dry weather here.

I decided to take a risk that nobody else would get it first, so I decided to wait a few days to give it a little maturation time. Then on Friday, I brought my mushroom knife (yes, I have a special mushroom knife) and a canvas bag to work, and stopped by afterwards to harvest.

harvested
Harvested! And it’s pretty heavy.

After I got the mushroom home I cleaned, sliced, prepared, cooked (I went with a batter and fry because one thing about chicken of the woods is that you have to cook it thoroughly to be extra safe.), and devoured it. Here are those steps (minus the eating, you don’t need to see me cramming food in my gob.)

Size
It didn’t look nearly this big on the tree! And wowza there is a lot of grass and dirt to clean out of those crevasses.
on the block
On the chopping block you can really see that meaty texture.
soaking
Just soaking.
battered
For breading I like to use an egg and milk wash, followed by a simple flour/salt and pepper coating.
fryin em up
You can smell them frying… So good.
first fry
The very first strips out of the deep fry.
Served up
And finally, my finished dish: Fried Chicken of the Woods, with mashed potatoes with gravy, and a side of rolls.

Well there you go: a mushroom from being found to being on the plate. It was delicious, and next time I get out to find another I’ll prepare it a different way and share with you.

Ok, one last time: don’t eat a mushroom you aren’t familiar with. But, once you know what you are after, get out there and find it.

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