Also known as chicken fungus, chicken of the woods is a mushroom variety that can thrive among any climate conditions and is one of the most preferred mushroom varieties for chefs, professional and amateur alike. The name should not be confused for “hen of the woods” – another variety of edible mushrooms native in the northwest of the US and Japan, appreciated for its size (some mushrooms can reach the weight of 100 pounds).
Chicken of the woods is not only spectacular in appearance – it is also a variety highly appreciated by chefs, professionals as well as amateur cooking enthusiasts, for the characteristic chicken taste that gives these great fungi their name and for the varied cooking options they offer. Here are some things that are worth knowing when preparing to use chicken of the woods in the kitchen.
Identifying Chicken of the Wood and Harvesting Tips
Chicken of the woods mushrooms are easy to recognize – they are the large, yellow and orange or yellow and red masses that thrive in the woods on the trunk or at the base of dead trees. The masses consist of multiple, large, shelf-like formations that have a frilled shape and are orange colored with yellow edges. You need to know that only young mushrooms are good to eat – to make sure that you have only young ones, look for mushrooms that feature bright colors
Chicken of the woods are very common in woodlands, they can grow on practically any tree variety. While they are safe to harvest from most forests, you should avoid chicken of the woods coming from conifer or eucalyptus trees because these trees secrete toxins that the mushrooms can absorb, becoming toxic themselves.
Why Chicken of the Woods are so Great in the Kitchen
Chicken of the woods are easy to work with and they can be added to a variety of recipes. Cleaning them is easy – all you need to do is to remove any dirt with a mushroom brush, then to soak the mushrooms into cold water for a few minutes (not for more, to ensure cleanliness without letting the mushrooms absorb too much liquid), then to dry the mushrooms with a paper towel.
Chicken of the woods can be used in many recipes – here are some ideas from an online company offering many mushroom spore syringe varieties:
- Pates and spreads – just chop the mushrooms into small pieces, sauté them in a large pan to remove excess water, add shallots, garlic, salt, pepper and herbs for more flavor and keep stirring the mix until the desired consistency is achieved;
- Sauces – chicken of the woods make excellent ingredients in pasta sauces. You can prepare them exactly like you would cook sauces that contain minced meat;
- Roasted chicken of the woods – putting your mushrooms in the oven with some herbs is another great way to prepare them;
- Sautee them for an elegant side dish – despite their meaty flavor and texture, these mushrooms go great with meat dishes. They also cook very fast, so they are a quick alternative to rice or potatoes.