Saturday, September 27, 2008

Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms

We just received the first shipment of the year of chicken of the woods mushrooms (Laetiporus sulphureus), also known as chicken mushrooms or sulfur shelf fungi. As you can see in the photo, the upper surface is generally a bright orange, while the bottom surface is a sulfur yellow, though these are much more beige than many I have seen in the past.

Coloration is highly variable (or there are many closely related species, I'm not sure). Local chickens tend to be more vanilla colored with bright saffron fringes. These came from our forager in Oregon.

I have read that the name chicken comes from the fact that the interior of the sliced fungus is colored exactly like cooked chicken breast, that it has a firm texture that resembles chicken breast, and that it has a flavor of lemony chicken. I don't find the chicken flavor: all I detect is bland mushroom that will take on whatever flavors you cook it with, making it a useful meat substitute, though I much prefer to showcase the mushroom on its own rather than have it play stand-in for something else.

When working with chickens, make sure that you harvest or buy the young, tender ones. Older ones are just too tough and fibrous for decent eating. Look closely for insect holes; sulfur shelves are highly prone to insect damage. These, while they look a little beat around the edges, are still quite tender and they also represent some of the largest specimens in the box we received, for ease of photography. The smaller ones are much nicer than these.

I'll keep adding ideas for using these mushrooms to this post as we work our way through the mushrooms at the restaurant. So far:

  • Chicken of the Woods and Chanterelles Baked under Brie

  • Chicken of the Woods Lasagne Puttanesca

  • Chicken of the Woods and Bacon Frittata

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