How to find, identify, cultivate and cook your Chicken of the Woods Mushroom.
While running errands yesterday, we happened to drive by one of our trusty “Chicken of the Woods” mushroom spots that has produced huge mushrooms for the past two summers. In case you’ve never heard of it, Chicken of the Woods is a large incredibly tasty gourmet mushroom that tastes just like… chicken.
Sure, there are a bunch of unusual or exotic meats that people say “taste like chicken,” but there aren’t a lot of mushrooms that fall into that category. Just to make sure we weren’t crazy, we conducted a little experiment. Last summer, we served some breaded, fried Chicken of the Woods “chicken fingers” to a few friends and asked them to guess what they were eating. Drum roll… they all thought they were eating really good chicken fingers—from a bird, not a mushroom.
So, next time someone tells you they “don’t like mushrooms,” ask them if they like chicken. If they say yes, then there is a mushroom out there that they’ll probably like.
Different Types of Chicken of the Woods
According to mycologist Tom Volk, there are at least six different subspecies that can be found under the common name “Chicken of the Woods.” These subspecies can be identified based upon:
- pore color (yellow, white, salmon)
- position on tree (on standing tree/log or emerging from the soil)
- growth form (overlapping shelves or rosettes)
- geographical location (West Coast, East of Great Plains, etc)
- tree species (oak, eucalyptus, etc)
All varieties of Chicken of the Woods are edible, but some are better than others for eating. Luckily, our trusty spot about one mile from our home is a good producer of Laetiporus cincinnatus, a “Chicken” variety that is considered by many to have the best flavor and texture of them all.
Like chicken (the bird), Chicken of the Woods is also very high in protein. According to this online resource, the nutritional breakdown of Laetiporus cincinnatus is:
- 14g Protein
- 6g Carbs (3 of which consist of dietary fiber)
- 1g Fat (monounsaturated)
This means Chicken of the Woods (and other mushrooms) can serve as an awesome protein source for anyone looking for a vegetarian protein alternative.
One of the nice things about having “roots” in a place is that you start to develop a deep knowledge of your surroundings the longer you live there. For instance, within a few miles of our home, we now know where to easily find a huge variety of delicious nutritious, “wild” seasonal fruits, veggies and mushrooms. And we’ve only lived in our home for about 4 years!
Whether or not you’re religious, it’s not hard to understand how many native/indigenous populations came to consider their ancestral lands as “sacred” after thousands of years of forming connections to a particular place. A nearby rock face, stream or meadow wasn’t just a pleasant view, it was rich with transgenerational stories, history and interactions that made the land an integral part of their self-identity. These were not folks who moved to a new home in a new area of the country every few years to work their way up the corporate ladder.
Maybe after a few more years living in Greenville, SC, we’ll have an even richer appreciation for the sacred Appalachian lands that we’re fortunate to call home.
Chicken of the Woods Identification & Storage
While Chicken of the Woods is a relatively easy mushroom to identify, be mindful that you should always exercise extreme discretion when you’re new to foraging wild foods, mushrooms included. There are plenty of all-natural things that will kill you, so be 100% sure you’ve made the correct ID or don’t eat it.
Also, don’t eat a bunch of anything the first time you’re trying it, even if you’ve made a 100% certain ID. Different people have different reactions to the same food, so you’ll want to make sure you don’t experience any adverse effects (imagine serving a loaf of bread to a gluten intolerant person who had never eaten wheat before – yikes!).
Chicken of the Woods are huge mushrooms that can weigh up to 100 pounds, so you should have plenty of time and mushroom to experiment with. Thankfully, this is one mushroom that also freezes very well, so store the extra mushroom pieces in your freezer and cook them throughout the year.
How to Grow Your Own Chicken of the Wood Mushrooms
Yes, you can grow your own chicken of the woods at home without having to try to find it out in the woods (it’s a relatively rare mushroom). Depending on where you live & what types of cut logs or tree stumps you have access to, you’ll need different types of mushroom spawn.
Once you have your log/s and/or stumps, all you need is a multi-purpose 5/16″ drill bit, some beeswax or cheese wax (canning wax isn’t ideal because it becomes really brittle and can fall off), a hammer (to tap the spawn dowels into place), time and water/rain. Oh! and spawn (below)… You can inoculate your logs any time of year, but it’s best to keep them out of freezing temps for 2-3 weeks. We’ve inoculated our logs in February when it’s too cold outside to do yard work and we just leave them in the garage (out of freezing temps) covered with a blanket for a few weeks so the mycelium can establish itself. Both these kits will do one 6′ log/stump (or two 3′ logs/stumps).
Of course, if you’d prefer to skip the whole finding a log, getting out your drill & digging through your piles of screws, bits and another other drill-related stuff to find the right sized drill bit, etc., you can just buy a log already inoculated for you. You’re welcome.
- Chicken of the Woods for Softwoods Laetiporus conerificola spawn: Grows on softwoods like hemlocks, Douglas Fir, true firs, and spruce. note: this kit comes with the wax. buy inoculant here
- Chicken of the Woods for Hardwoods Laetiporus sulphureus: Grows on hardwoods like oak, maple and poplar. buy inoculant here
For really detailed instructions on how to inoculate your logs, check out our blog post on how to grow Shiitake mushrooms.
How to Cook Chicken of the Woods
Instead of providing you with one Chicken of the Woods recipe, we’re going to do something better: tell you to substitute your Chicken of the Woods (mushroom) for chicken (poultry) in any of your favorite chicken recipes.
Fry some into chicken fingers and dip them in homemade honey mustard, use some in an Asian stir-fry, make chicken parmesan, or get creative! If you like chicken, you’ll like Chicken of the Woods, regardless of whether you’ve found Laetiporus cincinnatus, Laetiporus sulphureus, or one of the other Chicken of the Woods sub-categories.