No, chicken of the woods isn’t a hen enthused about primitive living, nor is it a North American cousin of the jungle fowl, it’s a mushroom, and a damn tasty one at that! Known for it’s chicken-like flavor and bright orange and yellow hues, this fungi is prized by cooks and mushroom hunters alike. It is especially good when breaded and fried (I mean, what isn’t, right?). When I made this and gave some to my vegan friend she flipped out because she hadn’t had anything this close to real fried chicken in 6 years! So whether you’re a veg head, a mushroom skeptic, a chicken nugget loving veggie hating child, or a southerner, you have got to try my recipe for the world’s best fried chicken… of the woods!
Now how to find this magical fungi:
When people refer to chicken of the woods they are actually referring to two different species, the white chicken (Laetiporus cinncinnatus) and the sulfur shelf ( Laetiporus sulphureus) mushroom. Chicken mushrooms are one of the few polypores, which means that the underside of the cap is made up of pores, not gills. The only difference between these two species is that white chicken mushrooms have a white or pinkish pore surface whereas the sulfur shelf has vibrant yellow pores. The other difference is that white chicken tends to grow at the base of trees, feeding from their roots, whereas sulfur shelf can grow on the base or trunk of the tree. Both grow on living and dead hardwood. I generally find the sulfur shelf variety, but this may be different in your area. No matter which chicken mushroom you find, though, they are both equally delicious and can be found in equally large quantities.
Fungi exciti! My first chicken find- all on one log!
These bright orange shelf fungi can be found on hardwood trees is summer and autumn on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. In the United States, they are absent from the Rocky Mountains. They do grow on conifers and eucalyptus, although some have reported gastric upset from eating chicken mushrooms found on trees other than hardwoods. Chicken of the woods does not have any look alikes as their orange coloration sticks out like a sore thumb. Any mushroom resembling it in size and shape will not be the same color and any resembling its color will be much too tough to consume.
Sulfur shelf growing on a log. Sage for scale.
Some mycophiles refuse to harvest these common mushrooms claiming that they are too dry and those people are wrong! I kid the discerning mushroom hunter, but I really think it is foolish to pass these up as they are by far my favorite wild edible fungus. I do recommend harvesting them before they get too old, though, as they can dry out if they’ve been fruiting for weeks, but if you go out in the woods to look every couple of days you should not have a problem with this. Chicken of the woods is one of those mushrooms that you often find in it’s very young stages and can come back in a couple of days when it is fully grown to reap the maximum harvest.
Speaking of maximum harvest, this is one mushroom that I have to be careful with because I love to eat it so much that it can be difficult not to over harvest. Luckily, it does tend to grow in such large quantities that you can harvest just half of what you find on a single log and still go home with 20-30 pounds. Remember to always practice responsible harvesting techniques, always cutting the mushrooms off with a knife to prevent disturbing the mycelium, carrying harvested fungi in a mesh bag to spread spores, and to leave a portion of what you find to continue to fulfill its ecological purpose.
While these mushrooms do not have any toxic constituents or look alikes, some do report a difficult time digesting this mushroom or tingly lips. Since individuals react differently to wild mushrooms, it is important to just eat a little bit the first time you eat any mushroom and wait to see if you have a reaction, although the chances are very low.
Whether you are a beginning mushroom hunter or a full blow mycophile, here's some super duper cool stuff to check out!
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Disclaimer: This blog is just my opinion. While I try my hardest, everything may not be accurate or complete. Do not hold me accountable for anything you do to harm yourself or the world around you. I do make a small amout of money from this blog. If you click on any of the links in this blog, I may make a small amount of money from it, at no extra cost to you. I am not sponsored by any of these companies I just honestly love their products and want to give you the resources to find them. I am not a medical practictioner; consult a health care professional before using any herbal remedies. I am not claiming to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any ailment.