Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chicken of the woods

A couple of days ago, while picking up my wife and daughter at a friend's apartment complex, our friend pointed out that she had seen a large mushroom in the vicinity. To my surprise it was a nice cluster of "chicken" (this is one of the reasons why it is good to let your friends know you pick mushrooms!). Although I had never eaten one before, I knew that this mushroom is very easy to identify, that it does not have many lookalikes and that it is considered a "choice" edible (all great characteristics for those willing to experiment on mycophagy). Furthermore I had examined a few specimens of other varieties of Laetiporus on previous MAW forays (always with some degree of envy). Luckily, the specimen I found was very fresh and soft and was large enough for a dinner for 3 (~1 pound). Not only I took it home but I also decided to give it a try in the kitchen. Therefore, on this post I'll describe the mushroom  and provide my little recipe.

Location: Rollins Park, Rockville, MD
Date: 07/19/2011
Habitat: Gregarious (2 specimens growing next to each other), growing on wood (roots of an oak tree) as a cluster.

Pileus: upper surface is soft, velvety, wrinkled, moist, orange-yellow (specially near the margins), with overlapping fan-shaped pilei with blunt and wavy margins.
Hymenium: pore surface is white, pores are very small and round, soft, does not bruise, flesh is white, soft. Flavor and smell are non-distinctive.
Stipe: absent
Spore print: not obtained

This is a specimen of Laetiporus sulphureus var semialbinus (aka Laetiporus cincinnatus). The classical L. sulphureus has a nice bright yellow color, while the semialbinus variety tends to be orange-yellow. There are almost no look alikes and the ones that exist are either bitter or two hard to eat. The mushroom is better eaten when young and soft, but older specimens can be eaten too (only the borders will be soft enough). There are some reports of people with intolerance to this mushroom and, therefore, it is suggested that one should approaches it with care the first time in the kitchen. Apart from that, this is a great edible and a good start for those willing to approach mycophagy for the first time. On another note, this mushrooms comes back year after year (try to remember where you found it and you will have food for many years) but it causes brown cubical rot on the tree which eventually leads to its death.

Roody W.C., Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians, pages 378-9
Miller, O.K and Miller, H, A Falcon Guide to North American Mushrooms, page 428

"Chicken" Stroganoff Recipe
- chicken of the woods
- 2 cloves of garlic (minced or sliced)
- 1 can of heavy cream (or 1 cup)
- 1 onion (minced) (optional)
- 1 table spoon of paprika
- 1 or 2 table spoons of olive oil
- salt and pepper

1) Wash the mushroom. Break the chicken in 1 inch pieces with your hands (if you have never done that, you'll understand why this mushroom is called chicken) and discard any parts that are too hard.
2) In a deep pan, add olive oil and garlic. Fry it until garlic starts to release its smell.
3) Add onion and fry it for 3 minutes, or until it starts to get golden.
4) Add chicken and pan fry it for 3 or 4 minutes, mixing gently.
5) Add heavy cream and paprika and cook it for another 2 or 3 minutes (or until the mushroom is soft and cooked). Add water if you prefer it less thick.
6) Season it with salt and pepper.
7) Serve it with rice and enjoy.

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