Monday, September 14, 2009

Not Too Chicken to Eat Chicken of the Woods

I was recently poking around in the woods behind my house (by which I mean my rented apartment) with my dog, and as always, I had one eye out for wild edibles. But unlike most of our forays, this time I returned home with a few pounds of serious food tucked under my arm. As you can see from the photo above, it was a mushroom.

A chicken of the woods, aka sulfur shelf mushroom, as I've previously covered here.

Though I am interested in foraging, I am not at all interested in eating a mushroom that might kill me. Luckily the c.o.t.w. is no such mushroom. Known as a "beginner fungi," it has no poisonous counterparts and is ridiculously easy to spot. It's like it wants us to eat it.

And the feeling is mutual.

We made a risotto with little else but the wild fungi for flavor, and also sautéed a few hunks of it in butter and pan drippings from a chicken not of the woods. These were absolutely outstanding.

The sulfur shelf ain't no slimy, watery tasteless white button. It's a wild mushroom, and it tastes like it. The 'shroom is meaty in both texture and flavor, hence the name (I think). In fact I can't recall any other vegetarian foodstuff with a chew so downright steak-like.

Of course the actual chicken pan drippings accentuated the fungi's umami, but it worked with what was already there. As the drippings reduced, the mushroom took on a glaze and the edges began to candy. Little bits of hand-torn fresh rosemary didn't hurt either.

I don't eat every wild edible I find in the woods behind my house, largely because of concerns for the health of the soil. Though the woods are beautiful, they're low and surrounded by suburbia, and I imagine that much of the pesticide from my neighbor's lawns and the oil from our cars all finds its way down there. There's a beautiful elder growing out of the middle of a stream at the nadir, and at present it's full of berries, and I love elderberries, but I don't love lead.

But when I saw the chicken of the woods, I couldn't resist. After all, it wanted me to eat it.

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Karen said...

love wild mushrooms. is chicken of the woods different from hen of the woods? that mushroom was certainly a more vibrant yellow than any wild cultivated mushroom I've seen in the grocery store.

Aaron Kagan said...

Yes, they're actually two different species. Not sure why the names are so similar but would love to know if anyone out there can weigh in.

HAPR said...

We found a chicken of the woods last fall and sauted it in butter and served it over fresh pasta. Amazing! A woodsy, nutty flavor. I am hooked. Ready to go hunting again soon...

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