Chicken of the Woods, known to mycophiles as Laetiporous sulphureus or Sulphur Shelf, is a late summertime mushroom that gets its common name from, well, tasting very similar to chicken.
The first sighting of this fungus for me heralds the start of the new mushroom season for the year, simply because Chicken, as it is affectionately called, has a season spanning from late summer until autumn – when the first forest mushrooms start popping up. This fungus is quite unmistakable from afar, as vivid orange layers (or shelves) of this bracket fungi are juxtaposed with the dark brown oak tree bark from which they grow. This fungus is both a parasite and saprobe – causing “heart rot” to the host tree, eventually hollowing it out inside. The fungus also feeds on decaying wood matter within the bark. It is most often found on fallen logs and stumps.
I must stress that only specimens growing on Oak and Poplar should be consumed, as some very unpleasant experiences have been had from eating Chicken which grew on Eucalyptus and Pine. It turns out that the variety which grows on the latter trees is actually slightly different and not true Chicken of the Woods. Additionally, only collect fresh specimens and from trees positively identified as being of the oak or poplar variety, ideally the fungus should be gathered when it is as young as possible. Some specimens I’ve collected often leak water out of the shelves when being cut – this is a good indicator of freshness. Despite this, some of have been known to still get a bad reaction after eating this fungus. To reduce your chances even more, and to play it safe, boil your Chicken of the Woods in a pot with water for a good 5 minutes before preparation.
Some say it tastes a little like scrambled eggs, and other say a dash of citrusy smokiness is prevalent too – but the common consensus is that it resembles the taste and texture of chicken breast. Check out my recipe for it here.
One of my forager and blogger friends, Marie from 66 Square Feet, has both found and written about Chicken of the Woods in Cape Town. It has also been recorded growing a few weeks before the first big rains come, almost sensing the rain’s arrival”. Armed with this knowledge, I wish you luck if you go Chicken hunting this summer.