Chicken of the Woods

By 5 m read
Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) aka Sulphur Shelf (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) aka Sulphur Shelf (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

If you’ve never hunted mushrooms, never identified a mushroom, and never eaten a mushroom other than the ones you’ve bought in the store, keep reading…

 

Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) aka Sulphur Shelf, is a wonderful mushroom to start hunting for beginners and is still a fan-favorite of seasoned mushroom hunters and mushroom cooks. 

 

Why is that? Well, it’s plentiful, it’s easy to recognize, it’s versatile in the kitchen, and yes, it tastes like chicken. 

Chicken of the woods - A nice find a few years back (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
A nice find a few years back (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

What is a mushroom?

Whenever you see a mushroom, regardless of size, shape, or color, you’re looking at the fruiting body of the organism fungus (plural fungi). They are so different and specialized compared to plants that they have their own taxonomic kingdom

 

Here’s a short intro to mushrooms, the original World Wide Web.

Chicken of the woods - Got lucky early this year 😃 (Photo by Dave Brandes)
Got lucky early this year 😃 (Photo by Dave Brandes)

So, when and where do I find chicken of the woods?

Chicken of the woods are primarily found during late summer and fall. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a nice cluster of them in the middle of June (which I did this year).

 

Be sure to note where you found them. They most likely will appear on the same tree for several years in a row. Or if it’s on a log that you can grab and take home, why not. Put it in your backyard and enjoy chicken of the woods for hopefully many years. 

 

Once you know what to look for, you’ll find chicken of the woods with regularity. My best finds have been while I was driving somewhere for a totally different reason. The only caveat…they were mostly on private property. 

 

After a while you’ll ask yourself the question: Why is it that the nicest, freshest chicken of the woods always seem to grow on trees on private property with nobody home to ask permission to harvest?

 

Chicken of the woods can be found pretty much everywhere. In dense forests, city parks, backyards, and along roads. They’ll grow on stumps, logs, and trunks of deciduous and coniferous trees. In our area, they seem to prefer oaks (which we have a lot of and that might be part of the reason).

Chicken of the woods - I found this one in a dense, dark forest (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
I found this one in a dense, dark forest (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

How do I identify chicken of the woods?

Chicken of the woods are called polypores. They always grow on trees, without a stem. Most of these types of mushrooms are too tough to eat.  In our region (US Mid-Atlantic), there are three exceptions, and one of them is the chicken of the woods. 

 

Chicken of the woods are large and highly visible. Look for clusters of shelflike caps, one to two feet total in width. When they are fresh, the upper surface of the caps is either sulphur yellow or bright orange, losing their color intensity with age and weathering. A single cluster can grow up to 20 lbs and some say even up to 50 lbs. 

 

Sometimes you have to climb to get to the good ones. Whitetail deer like them too….and so do insects, and of course your fellow mushroom hunters. 

 

Luckily they are common in our area, so sharing is ok 😀

Chicken of the woods - Oh, did I mention that they smell just like chicken (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
Oh, did I mention that they smell just like chicken (Photo by Viana Boenzli)

How do I harvest, clean, and store chicken of the woods?

When harvesting chicken of the woods, try to pick the young fruiting body (which doesn’t always work, if you don’t find it when it just appeared). Otherwise, cut off the tender edges of older ones. By bending the front, they’ll show you where the flesh gets hard, kind of like breaking off the woody stalk of an asparagus. 

Chicken of the woods - Separating the hard from the soft part (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
Separating the hard from the soft part (Photo by Viana Boenzli)

Clean them with a brush and/or paper towel. Cut off damaged areas and parts that have been partially eaten by insects. Cut in slices. Once you have your nice, clean pieces together, you can put them in a paper bag and store up to five days in the refrigerator.

Chicken of the woods (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
(Photo by Viana Boenzli)

Another easy way to store your bounty is to simply put them in the freezer. No blanching or other preparation necessary. 

 

Tip: If you have a food dehydrator, dehydrate some of them and ground them into a powder. Add this chicken of the woods powder to any pasta sauce, stew, or soup whenever you feel like adding a bit of umami to your dish. 

Chicken of the woods (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
(Photo by Viana Boenzli)

And finally, how do I cook with chicken of the woods?

Just like chicken! When using them fresh, sauté in olive oil and butter until tender, season with salt & pepper. Then add them to your omelette or into your bowl of ramen noodles or just add some cream and fresh herbs and eat them just as such. Or cook up some pasta and pour the mushroom sauce over it.

 

If you use frozen ones, first dehydrate by soaking them in lukewarm water. Drain and keep the water. This stuff is now mushroom stock. Use it accordingly. 

 

Note: Although this mushroom is considered highly edible, there is a very small percentage of people that can have a slight adverse reaction to an amino acid present in this mushroom. 

 

Why did the mushroom go to the party?

Because he’s a fungi!

Louis Tomlinson 

 

Remember: There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters. But there are no old, bold mushrooms hunters. 

Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) aka Sulphur Shelf (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) aka Sulphur Shelf (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

 

Want to find more delicious food in the wild? Find out how:

 

And don’t miss this funny video of Erich and Viana hunting for Chanterelles!

 

Love mushrooms? Check out a few of our recipes that include this delicious ingredient now!

 

Have you found chicken of the woods? Let us know in the comments below!

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