First things first. Before you go out collecting just any old mushroom you find, go foraging with a knowledgable guide or mushroom club BEFORE you cook up the first thing you lay your eyes on. Only a handful of wild mushrooms are edible while thousands are poisonous! Thankfully, edible mushrooms often have unique characteristics that make them stand out from the poisonous ones so once you get the hang of where to look and what to look for, things will become easier. Do NOT, I repeat, get too big for your breeches after you begin to feel confident. Even the best hunters will walk away if they are learey. Mushrooms can kill or if your lucky, leave you with a nasty bout in the bathroom for several hours.
On that cheerful note, I’ll continue on with our mushroom lesson of the day.
Exhibit A: Below image is a chicken of the woods mushroom:
For those of you unfamiliar with chicken of the woods (CWs), they are an edible mushroom often found growing wild on dying ash and oaks. (At least for those of us in the northern midwest United States). CWs can take on many different looks and may be found in clusters of CWs or growing entirely by itself. Below are a few images to show the variations.
CWs are often spotted, thanks to their intense, highway workers alongside the road during summer road construction, florescent orange and yellow flesh, They are a shelf type mushroom meaning they stack on top of one another when growing as shown in the photo above. The bottom of the mushroom is generally bright yellow and comprised of tiny pores rather than gills. CWs can be very small if you find them in their infancy stage and well over a foot and a half when at their most mature.
Do know, if you find them at their mature stage do not eat them if they look like they are decaying. Lots of bugs and maggots are not a good sign, along with mushy flesh. CWs should be firm, bright and look alive and radiant, not resembling the woren out sponge behind the compost bucket, beneath your sink.
As for texture and flavor, true to its name it often does taste like chicken. CWs are easily prepared in a similar manner and are great grilled or sauteed it in a covered pan over low heat with just some salt on the stovetop. Sauteed in butter works as well but they tend to absorb a lot of liquid. Adding a little oil along with stock to keep the mushroom hydrated allows it to absorb flavor as apposed to gobs of oil.
The inspiration for todays post came from a smoked apple butter recipe I found in Paul Virant’s Preservation Kitchen. I happened to be visiting my family back in my hometown where my lovely mother has a smoker, and I thought, why the heck can’t I smoke a mushroom! (In the smoker of course!)
So after finding about 4 pounds of CW while foraging, I headed back to home base, sliced the CW into strips and fired up the smoker. The mushrooms smoked for about 2 hours after which I simmered them in a small amount of oil and stock till cooked through. After the little stewing action, I threw in some sweet and tangy sauce, heated them through and began feasting!
The result…a delicious meaty tasting free-of-meat alternative. Mind you it has been 5 years since departing from my vegan ways, but boy if I had this for my meat substitute back in the day, seitan, tofu and tempeh would all be taking a hike. Even more exciting…it’s freely foraged!!!!
If you want more info on this delightful wild food google its scientific name Laetiporus sulphureus. And again, for heaven’s sake forage safely!!!
Smoked Chicken of the Woods in Sweet & Tangy Sauce
Note: No smoker…just use liquid smoke!
For Smoking the Chicken of the Woods:
chicken of the woods mushroom
For the Sweet & Tangy Sauce:
1 tsp. oil
1/2 c. or more if necessary broth (chicken, mushroom, beef, you choose)
2 T. maple syrup
1 T. apricot jam
1 T. blackstrap molasses
1/4 c. coconut aminos OR tamari
1 tsp. fish sauce OR vegan worcestershire sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp crushed mustard seed
crack of black pepper
1/2 tsp liquid smoke if no smoker
Smoking the Chicken of the Woods:
Slice mushrooms into 1″ thick strips and smoke according to your smoker’s manufacture’s instructions. I used a cold smoke for about 2 hours at OR just add liquid smoke to the sweet & tangy sauce.
For the Sweet & Tangy Sauce:
SImmer the chicken in the woods over medium high heat with the oil and broth until the mushrooms are tender and just a scant amount of broth remains.
Combine the remaining ingredients for the sauce in a separate bowl.
Reduce the heat to medium low and add enough of the ingredients you set aside to coat the mushroom.
Simmer for approximately 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, let sit for 10 minutes and either refrigerate for adding some “meat” to a meal or munch the there, right on the spot!