Editor’s Note: Mushroom season is still with us, and Leda Meredith has another tip for the foraging spirits of Brooklyn. Chicken of the woods mushrooms can be found in parks throughout the borough. And they’re a little easier to find than your typical fall forageable. Why? Their wildly bright mix of orange and yellow goodness makes them easy to spot from, say, the back of a car-service Escalade speeding past your local community garden.
By Leda Meredith
Gary Lincoff, mycologist extraordinaire, likes to joke that there are free range ‘Hens‘ in NYC parks. Well, there are chickens out there, too. Chicken of the woods mushroom, that is, a.k.a. Laetiporus species.
It’s a cliche in the food and foraging worlds to say that something “tastes like chicken,” but Chicken (capitalized because that’s how us mushroom hunters refer to it, with special emphasis and usually leaving out the “of the woods” part) actually does taste remarkably like chicken. Although its flavor is gently mushroomy, its color and texture when cooked are similar to the fowl of the same name.
Chicken is fairly easy to spot. While other summer-through-fall mushrooms hide out among fallen brown leaves or on logs, camouflaged in the same colors as those leaves and logs, Chicken parades its bright mix of orange, yellow and creamy hues in a way that can catch your eye from a distance.
Chicken grows in overlapping caps on trees, logs and stumps. It has pores rather than gills, and a white spore print. The flesh of Chicken is creamy white, pink, or light orange. Size for a clump of Chicken can be anywhere from fist-sized to 2 feet across depending partly on how old it is when you find it.
Also sometimes called sulphur shelf, this is a great edible mushroom for beginners to learn because there isn’t really anything else out there that looks exactly like it. Wildman Steve Brill points out that novices might possibly confuse Chicken with a mushroom called Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi), but that mushroom lacks Chicken’s bright orangey-yellow hues.
There is also a different species known as fried chicken mushroom (Lyophyllum decastes), but it’s a cap and stem mushroom with gills that doesn’t look anything like Laetiporus. Both Berkeley’s polypore and fried chicken mushroom are edible – they just don’t taste as good in my opinion.
People who think they don’t like mushrooms often love Chicken. I’ve converted several friends who were myco-skeptics into being willing to try other mushrooms because they enjoyed Chicken so much.
Chicken is out there in BK’s parks right now. It will disappear until next year once the weather turns wintery cold. It dries well, and can also be frozen or pickled.
Chicken of the Woods Mushroom Creamy Pasta Sauce
1 1/2 lbs. cleaned and finely chopped chicken of the woods mushroom
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
4 Tbsp. butter (or veg. oil)
1/4 cup dry white wine or sherry
3 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 cups milk (vegans can leave this out and double the amount of stock)
1 1/2 cups mushroom or vegetable stock
Several sprigs fresh, or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1. Melt 1 Tbsp. of the butter in a skillet over low heat. Add the mushrooms and shallot and cook, stirring often, until they have first released any liquid and then reabsorbed it, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook for another 5 – 10 minutes.
2. Combine the milk (if using) and stock in a small pot and heat to a simmer.
3. In a separate medium sized pot, melt the remaining 3 tbsp. of the butter over low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the hot milk/stock mixture a little at a time (if you dump it all in at once, it will clump).
4. Add the thyme, and return to the stove and simmer over medium-high heat for 5 – 10 minutes, stirring vigorously and often, until it starts to thicken. Add the mushrooms and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Serve over any cooked pasta, but fettucine is especially good here. Go lightly with the grated cheese, if any.
Next foraging tour in BK on October 22nd. I promise to share any Chicken we find!
Leda Meredith is the author of The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget. She is the Gardening Program Coordinator for Adult Education at the New York Botanical Garden and an instructor specializing in edible and medicinal plants at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Info on her many upcoming classes and events can be found on her blog at www.ledameredith.com