Foraged Mushroom 11: Chicken Of The Woods

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Laetiporus sulphurous

chicken of the woods

Mushrooms are magic!

People often misunderstand me when I say this, they assume I’m talking about psychotropic mushrooms but I’m not (though I don’t exclude them).
I’m talking about a phenomenon that I can best describe as a connection to the universe.
Though this “magic” is present throughout the natural world, if you know how to recognise it, engaging with wild mushrooms seems to make it particularly accessible.
 
I felt it strongly with this mushroom.
 
Chicken of the Woods is forager’s gold! It earns a high place on any mushroom hunter’s bucket list, partly due to it’s delectable edibility and partly because it’s very easy to identify and has few, if any, poisonous lookalikes.
 
Even before I began my mushroom journal, I was familiar with Chicken of the Woods, at least by name. My mother had hunted for years in the hope of finding one; in fact, I think she was a little peeved that I pipped her to the post!
 
This meaty yellow mushroom first appears during a lull in the UK’s mushroom season, dominating the mushroom groups and perhaps leading to a false sense of optimism for many hopeful hunters.
 
I had experienced my own lull since Mushroom Number 10, turning my focus to the many wonderful plants of Spring instead. I’m not sure exactly when I knew that this would be my number 11 but I did. Though to be fair, I was actively seeking it. Almost daily I went out with the sole intention of finding one, paying close attention to recommended habitats, but to no avail…
 
So, what was different about this particular day? I wasn’t looking for it. What was I looking for… I cannot recall, but I remember that my companion at the time, when handed a tiny acorn cup by a small child, looked at it and absent-mindedly said the word ‘Mugwort’. That caught my attention, “Mugwort, where?” I replied, he looked up in surprise and said “oh, is that an actual plant? I thought I was making it up”. 
 
Mugwort was familiar to me through reputation as a magical and powerful healing herb but I’d yet to “meet” her in person. Now she had my attention but there was nothing remotely Mugwort-like in sight at the time… We continued our walk, I was looking for Mugwort now, and suddenly an unfamiliar yet strangely familiar plant caught my eye and I went closer, I kind of knew it wasn’t Mugwort but somehow it seemed relevant. I took some photos and crushed a leaf to smell, it was very aromatic (only months later did I identify it as Tansy), as I began to move away another patch caught my eye, similar but different, it was Mugwort.

"The clearest path into the universe is through a forest wilderness."

John Muir
Chicken of the woods

My First Chicken

Aha, as I’m searching my photos, I recall… I was looking for Chicken of the Woods the day we found the Mugwort, but that wasn’t the day I found the mushroom. That was the day that lead to the day I found the mushroom.

We had randomly decided to explore a new area and might not have returned were it not to observe the Mugwort and mystery plant, waiting for the flowers to give more information. 

But return, we did, less than a week later. There were no sign of flowers yet but we decided to drive around and explore further…. 

As we drove, my mind filled with the wonder of nature’s magic, I suddenly spotted something large on a tree, a bracket of some sort… we pulled over and I scrambled up the bank, not daring to hope yet somehow knowing… and there it was! Almost glowing in the dappled sunlight, my first Chicken Of The Woods! [cue singing angel choir and beams of holy light]
 
And what is magic about that, you ask? You found a mushroom that you’d wanted to find but you weren’t looking for after finding a plant that that you’d wanted to find that somebody randomly mentioned just before you found it…
 
Well, I forgot to mention the fox. We saw a fox, when we first arrived at the place; Foxes have always carried a special significance to me and it wasn’t just seeing the fox but feeling that it meant something. Oh, and it was the 11th mushroom found on the 22nd day…
I have taken a long time to begin writing this journal entry because I didn’t know how to tell it without telling all of it but all of it might not make much sense to you, not if you’ve never recognised the magic before.
 
It’s not tangible, you see. It cannot be perceived with physical senses, nor captured and measured by scientific equation, it is something much deeper and older than time itself. It speaks to our inner consciousness and we must be open to it or it will be drowned out by the louder elements of life.
 
Have I lost you?
 
Ok, back to the mushroom…
 
WOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I FOUND THE CHICKEN MUSHROOM!!! [dances like a loony –  pausing only to apologise and explain to the startled dogwalker]
 
I took some photos before cutting about a third off to take home.
chicken of the woods mushroom
My first Chicken of the Woods

Tastes Like Chicken?

I cleaned and trimmed the mushroom and cut into slices. As this was my first experience of this mushroom, I didn’t know, until later, that it was a very dry specimen, due probably to the lack of rain. 

As with many wild mushrooms, it’s important to cook it thoroughly. I treated it as I would most mushroom, by sautéing it first and then adding my other ingredients and the sauce. Usually, I want to reduce the liquid content of a mushroom but with hindsight I realise this mushroom had almost no liquid content and so a different approach (of adding liquid) would have worked better.

chicken of the woods mushroom

As a vegetarian of several years, I was excited to emulate some of my old favourites using the mushroom as a substitute for chicken…. I thought I would make a creamy chicken and mushroom sauce, though it did occur to me that it was actually a mushroom and mushroom sauce! 😄
I added garlic, white wine and oat cream. Using the last few leaves of wild garlic as a garnish and adding the flavourful green seed pods for flavour. 
Served with Mashed Potato, Nettles and Fresh Veg. 

It was tasty but the texture was a bit tough.

chicken of the woods in creamy sauce
chicken of the woods recipe

Another great thing about this mushroom is that it’s plentiful! I’d only taken a third of it but I had enough to make several meals and dry some for later.
I made a Creamy Pasta with Broccoli and then a Soup with Nettle, Potato, Carrot Onion and Fresh Herbs.

chicken of the woods pasta
chicken of the woods recipes
chicken of the woods chopped
sliced chicken of the woods

My Second Chicken

As I mentioned before, my mother was a little envious of my find, I had of course, gifted her some of the dried mushroom to try but a few weeks later, we met up to celebrate my birthday. 
We decided to go for a walk and of course, I was secretly hoping we might find one together… But that would be highly unlikely! 

We had just had one of the driest Spring seasons I can remember, so of course, on my birthday, which falls close to the Summer Solstice, we had about a months worth of rain! 
Everything was very soggy… I spotted a broken Willow Tree and gazed at it hopefully… There was a mushroom of some kind, could it… no, surely not… YES! I’d found another one!! 😀

mouldy chicken of the woods
My Second Chicken Of The Woods

It was definitely past it’s best, in fact, there were several of them around the tree, some decayed beyond use and turning green with mould but not to be deterred, I managed to cut a reasonably fresh piece to take with us.
Away from my kitchen’s potions and powders, I simply fried in butter on my little gas stove and seasoned with salt and pepper. The texture was noteably different from my first one, dry but not as tough. 

My Third Chicken

It was only four days later, whilst foraging for Bilberries and Rosebay Willowherb that I unexpectedly came across my third (and best) Chicken of the Woods. 
Something had compelled me to walk a little way up a path in the opposite direction to where I was headed, and there, on a dead tree stump, sparkling in a ray of sunshine, was the most beautiful specimen I had encountered yet!

Chicken of the woods
My Third Chicken Of The Woods
Rosebay willowherb, Bilberries and chicken of the woods
A Great Day's Foraging!

It Really Is Like Chicken!

After the Beefsteak Mushroom, which though resembling raw meat, is nothing like meat! I had curbed my enthusiasm for the Chicken of the woods and so hadn’t been too disappointed, but this time, I learned why this is such a popular mushroom! It was juicy and tender and the texture and appearance was uncannily like cooked chicken meat!  

chicken of the woods mushroom
chicken of the woods mushroom

Vegetarian Chicken Soup

I made a soup, adding the tender flower buds left over from making Ivan Chai with the Rosebay Willowherb. 
I offered a spoonful to my neighbour to try… “mmmm…oh my god!” He looked at me doubtfully and said, “I’m not sure you’re going to like this, it’s very meaty.” I laughed, I stopped eating meat, not because I stopped enjoying it but because I could no longer, in good conscience, support our abhorrent meat industry. Quietly foraging a mushroom on a sunny day in the woods is a far cry from the horrors of industrial poultry farming… 

So pass me a spoon!! 

chicken of the woods and rosebay soup
Vegetarian Chicken Soup

It was Amazing!! 

This might even be my favourite edible mushroom so far. But there are still so many I have yet to try…  

Thanks for reading! 

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