How to find, identify, grow, and cook Chicken of the Woods mushrooms.
Recently, while running errands, we happened to drive by one of our trusty “Chicken of the Woods” mushroom spots that has produced huge mushrooms at the same time over the past few summers.
Bingo! Peering at us from the base of a large, dying oak tree was another giant orange chicken of the woods.
In case you’ve never heard of it, Chicken of the Woods is a large, incredibly tasty gourmet mushroom that has the same taste and texture as 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 so you know we’re not full of it, 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. When we told them they were eating a mushroom they couldn’t believe it. We had to pull out our phone to show them pictures and descriptions to prove the point. The recipe is below. 🙂
So, next time someone tells you that they “don’t like mushrooms,” ask them if they like chicken. If they say yes, then there is at least one 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 of mushrooms 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 – or at least be a tie with Laetiporus sulphureus.
Like chicken (the bird), Chicken of the Woods is also very high in protein. According to this source, the macronutrient breakdown of 1 serving (100 g) 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.
That’s why — as we’ve written about here — chicken of the woods is one of six easy-to-grow gourmet, medicinal mushrooms that we recommend people grow at home in their own “mushroom gardens.”
One of the nice things about having “roots” in a particular geographical 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, depending on the season.
The longer we live here, the deeper that knowledge grows.
It’s not hard to understand how many native/indigenous populations came to consider their ancestral lands as “sacred.”
After all, over thousands of years and multiple generations of forming connections to a particular place, those places were integral to their self-identities, cultures, and religious experiences.
A nearby rock face, stream or meadow wasn’t just a pleasant view, it was rich with trans-generational stories, history, and interactions that made the land an integral part of their lives.
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.
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 or make you so sick you’ll wish you were dead. So be 100% sure you’ve made the correct ID or do NOT eat it.
No meal is worth dying for.
Also, don’t eat a bunch of anything the first time you’re trying it, even if you’re 100% certain of the 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 any extra “chicken” 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 warm-weather mushroom in the wild.)
Here’s how to grow your own chicken of the woods mushrooms:
- Plan – First, plan ahead. Do you have access to freshly cut hardwood logs or a newly cut hardwood tree stump? You’ll want to use wood that’s either just been felled or hasn’t been dead for more than three months. The longer a log sits, the more that other fungal spores will have landed on it and begun to colonize it, which means more competition for your chicken of the woods.
- Get tools – Here’s all you’ll need to inoculate your wood with chicken of the woods spawn;
- Order spawn – buy chicken of the woods spawn plugs here. See instructions on Amazon to determine how many spawn plugs you need to buy based on the amount of wood/logs you have.
- Inoculate your logs – Drill holes, insert spawn plugs, then cover each finished hole with melted wax (just melt on the stove in a cheap aluminum pie tin) using a paint brush. You don’t want to inoculate during the middle of freezing temps. Ideally, you still have at least a month ahead with no freezing temps on the forecast to ensure your chicken of the woods gets a nice jump start.
- Position your logs and wait – Put your finished logs outdoors into a full shade spot and wait. If you don’t get rain once per week during the warm months, water your logs with a sprayer to keep the chicken of the woods mycelium happy and growing. It may take 6 months or more for the first fruiting, depending on what month you started your logs (chicken of the woods won’t fruit until summer). After that, you should get mushrooms each summer for 3-5 years depending on how large your logs are. Once the mushroom runs of food (lignin in the wood), they’re done.
- Fruiting and harvest – When you see small chicken of the woods mushrooms starting to fruit on your logs, prop the logs upright against a railing, wall or other structure. This allows them to grow larger unimpeded, and also keeps them from growing into the dirt. It’s important that you keep the logs shaded and well-watered while they’re fruiting to ensure the largest, softest chicken of the woods mushrooms possible. It’s up to you to determine when to cut them off of the log. We recommend not waiting more than a week. It’s a balance between size and tenderness.
How to Cook Chicken of the Woods
You can either substitute your Chicken of the Woods (mushroom) for chicken (poultry) in any of your favorite chicken recipes, or try one of our favorite ways to prepare them – “Chicken” fingers!
"Chicken" Fingers using Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus cincinnatus)
- 1 cup flour organic all purpose for frying mix + 1/2 cup for "dredging" your mushrooms explained in instructions
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fine ground sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika + 1/2 teaspoon regular paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- dash of chili powder
- dash of fresh ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1 large egg we use duck eggs
- 1/3 cup milk we use organic whole or raw milk
- enough organic sunflower oil or other frying oil to cover your mushrooms in whatever pan you're using we use a flat-bottomed wok
- 1/2-1 lb Chicken of the Woods cut into desired sized chuncks
Chop mushrooms into the desirable sized chunks. We quarter or half them.
Put 1/2 cup of flour in a medium sized bowl. This is your "dredging" bowl. You'll want to get a light dusting of flower on the entire outer surface of each mushroom before you dip in the milk/egg mixture.
Add your egg and milk into another mixing bowl, and whisk together. You'll dip your dredged mushrooms into your egg/milk mixture before placing them in your frying mix.
Prepare your frying mix by putting all dry ingredients (flour, spices, etc) into a large bowl. Whisk them together until evenly blended. Once your mushrooms have been: 1) dredged, and 2) dipped in your egg/milk mixture, you'll drop them into the big bowl of dry ingredients and cover them evenly.
Once uniformly covered with fry mix, shake off any extra fry mix. We like to place them on a drying rack on top of a cookie sheet until we're ready to put them in the fryer (you can just use a plate if you'd prefer).
Heat your cooking oil. Our stove top doesn't cook particularly hot or cold, so we put it on about 4.5. You'll know your oil is hot enough when you drop a bit of flour in and it starts sizzling.
Go ahead and get a drying/cooling sheet ready before you start frying your mushrooms. We like to use a cookie sheet with a drying rack on top. On top of the drying rack, we put down paper towels to soak up any extra oil.
Next start frying your mushrooms to golden-brown and crispy perfection. It should only take about 4-5 minutes to cook each mushroom if the oil is in the ideal temperature range.
Allow them to cool for a few minutes, then serve with your favorite chicken finger dip! Our favorites include homemade Honey Mustard (made from honey from our neighbor's bees) or a rich BBQ sauce.
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 love chicken, you’ll love Chicken of the Woods mushrooms, regardless of whether you’ve found Laetiporus cincinnatus, Laetiporus sulphureus, or one of the other Chicken of the Woods subspecies.
Happy growing, happy foraging, and happy eating!