Fall mushroom hunting is not walking through the woods carefully scanning the forest floor in search of small mushrooms. It is a search for big wood-eating fungus: Chickens, Hens, and Cauliflowers. The most beautiful of these fall delicacies is probably the Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus s. (also referred to as Sulphur Shelf). They are usually found in the fall, but will sometimes fruit through the winter and in early Spring. They are strikingly bold and colorful with lovely orange, peach, or yellow wings, which makes them hard to miss. Bright and beautifully formed, they are easily recognizable and identifiable.
Chicken of the Woods are usually found on dead oak trees or stumps. In some areas they can be found growing on hemlock or other coniferous trees. But, they should not be eaten if they are not found on hardwood. The bright orange wings of the fungus can be found high in trees or growing at the base of them. They can be arranged on lateral formations, or are sometimes clustered in huge rosettes.
The appearance of the fungus changes as it grows and ages. New growth looks soft and round progressing to the flat and winged shaped as they grow, and eventually bleaching out and turning chalky when they decay. The best specimens for eating are either very young or mature but still soft and brightly colored. The underside should be bright white.
Look for these bright and beautiful fungus anytime you are hiking in cool weather and be sure to have plenty of big bags. These chickens sometimes weigh more than any feathered chickens. I have had to cut specimens apart in the woods to be able to fit them into my carrier. Cutting these monsters up and cleaning them can be a big task. They are worth the work though. Because when they are fresh and tender, they are a wonderful edible fungus.
Chicken of the Woods is an interesting and versatile ingredient. Their “meat” is a texture unlike most any other fungus, and really much like eating chicken breast. I’m hesitant to blog about them, in fear of the woods being filled with hungry vegans that might read this. This subtly delicious mushroom can be used in stews, battered and fried, pickled, stir fried, and simply sautéed. I will be sharing three of the delicious ways we prepare our Laetiporus: Marinated Chicken of the Woods, Vegan Jerk Stew, and Chicken of the Woods Mac-N-Cheese.
Chicken of the Woods is fun to find and to cook. Learn how to positively identify these beauties, and keep an eye out for them anytime you are hiking in cool weather. When you do find them, be sure to remember the location because they will usually reappear in the same spot for many years.