Chicken of the Woods

September 14, 2012

You might remember my stepson, Damon, the Chanterelle Whisperer. Well, it seems he’s also the Chicken of the Woods Whisperer.

Poulet de la Woods? What is that, Jennifer?

Maybe Laetiporus cincinnatus rings a bell? No?

Well, yesterday Damon and his dad, aka my husband, were driving home from their trip to the dump (where, if you don’t know, we here in the middle of Nowheresville must go once a week to part with our stinky garbage) and they turn up the curve in the driveway toward the house and Damon spots something.

Hmm. What could that be?

Polypore mushrooms grow on decomposing trees and look like ‘shelves.’ You can’t eat the ones that grow on conifers or Eucalyptus.

With a chunk of the mystery plant matter in hand, the men continued up the driveway, walked in the door and begin banging around the bookshelves. I heard the commotion and came rushing out from my Muddy Office (where I was diligently procrastinating away posting junk on Facebook and pinning more junk on Pininterest).

My husband had gathered a few of the books we have on mushroom identification and was flipping away at the pages. Damon had that familiar glint in his eye.

He held the strange, salmon-hued chunk out to me and said, “I think it’s edible!”

Here, chickie chickie!

Now with wild mushrooms, “I think it’s edible” is a frightening term; there’s a potentially enormous price on the “I think” part of the phrase. While only 2% of the mushrooms in the world will kill you, you really don’t want to find that out over a nice plate of duck confit, a mess of mushrooms alla poison, and a fine Chianti.

It didn’t help that our mushroom identification books were published around the same time that Euell Gibbons was doing ads for Grape Nuts. The pages of the former library books had all taken on the color of spilled tea and the photos were mostly black and white. Our specimen was bright coral – certainly a key factor in solving its mysteries.

I started looking online. Damon wanted to perform a “spore test” (whatever that was). My husband took out a pair of jewelers glasses for closer inspection. And I, foolhardily, started dreaming about how this oddball thing would taste fried up in garlic and butter.

A book? What am I supposed to do with that?

While my high-powered Muddy Lawyer advises me that I must warn you not to rely on goofy sources like the Worldwide Interweb for your wild mushroom identification, and certainly don’t rely on me as a credible source, but this mushroom, we soon learned, was nearly, almost, 99% sure, pretty much absolutely not poisonous.

It was the prized culinary delight: Laetiporus cincinnatus.

More commonly known as Chicken of the Woods.

While my husband painstaking vacuumed out the stray bits of straw I left in the Suburu after my trip to Dick’s Klinger’s farm (super-super-sorry about that, honey!), Damon and I went out to gather the rest of the ginormous mushrooms at the bottom of the driveway.

Stand back and watch the Whisperer work.

Mushrooms are strange, alien creatures.

We brought the heavy basket o’ shrooms back to the Kitchen, weighed it, estimated its price on the open market ($400-600 maybe) and labored over the pros and cons of cooking up (and consuming) this strange delight.

For the remainder of the afternoon, we played YouTube videos on mushroom identification, checked and rechecked our sources, imagined both the glorious meal we could make and the painful collective death that might occur if we were wrong.

We decided to go for it.

“Just a little bit,” we all agreed.

Hauling the fruit to the house. The ‘shrooms weighed the basket down.

“Okay, so if we showed up at Dean & Deluca with all this how much could we get?”

The various recipes for Chicken of the Woods mushrooms involve cooking the thing up like chicken. Why? Because Chicken of the Woods, seriously, no joke, not in an alligator-tastes-just-like-chicken kind of way, tastes like chicken.

I read a recipe for ‘Chicken of the Woods tacos’ and ‘Chicken of the Woods Chicken soup’ and even mistakenly wandered onto the Girls Scouts website and read about a Chicken in the Woods recipe, but I just wanted to try the potentially lethal stuff, plain and simple: straight up.

So we sauteed it in a bit of olive oil and butter and tossed in some garlic to finish it off.

Does this look like chicken breast or wha?

The men cautiously had two chunks each and I gobbled up about 1/3 of a pound figuring my death-by-mushroom would come more quickly that way. In the morning I knew, if I was still alive and hadn’t accidentally killed off my family, that I’d write and tell you about it.

We decided that dolled up turkey burgers would make a perfect ‘last meal’.

We didn’t skimp on the fixin’s. It was maybe our last-ever meal, right?

Frying up the chicken…I mean Chicken of the Woods.

The men had a dainty bit of mushroom while I gobbled up a lethal dose.

Well, I am still alive and I am still swooning with delight over the wild and delicious Laetiporus cincinnatus fruiting in our driveway.

Now what to do with the ten more pounds of it for dinner tonight?

Chicken of the Woods mushroom living up to its name.

Take your boots off before you come in here!

Please share the love
Better yet, SUBSCRIBE

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }


Ahh, I love a good mushroom story in the morning( or afternoon as it is). I happen to be writing recipes(painfully) for a mushroom cookery class I am teaching on Monday. This was a happy distraction for a moment. Thanks!


Jennifer Solow

Where are you teaching the class? Let’s give it a little Muddy Kitchen plug!



Its at Sofra Bakery in Cambridge Ma. Still spaced available I think. This is the link to register:


Jennifer Solow

We did some cool new things with the mushroom last night…we made a Chicken of the Woods bolognese, which was great!

Let me know how the class goes, Cara! Wish I could be there!


Elizabeth Greene

Very cool! What an exciting discovery!



I love reading these. Its like were talking. you are hilarious. xo



and you are inspiring our menu out here!


Jennifer Solow

Want me to bring some back?



My dad was always good at mushroom hunting. He allways had my mom scared to death to eat any of them. I am still here so I guess he knew what he was doing. Enjoyed your post.


Jennifer Solow

My dad wasn’t much good at mushroom hunting but he did have the buying-ribs-thing down pretty well. I guess it’s lucky we both survived to tell the tales!



Nice, never heard of these but we applaud your willingness to try them…we would give some to the neighbors first and see if they come back tomorrow…;-)


Jennifer Solow

We tried to share with the neighbors. One politely (and nervously) took a small chunk and likely tossed it before he got home. The other neighbor looked at us like we were crazy for eating such a wonky thing.

Now if we had some extra hunk of venison?! THAT they would take.


So happy that you have this in your backyard! My friend and I found Chicken of the Woods whilst hiking in Panama… we were beyond happy as the only mushrooms to be found in shops were canned (booooo). She is the Shroom Nerd (I didn’t have a clue but she assured me that she thought it was ‘what she thought it was’), and we were Googling/asking around for what seemed like hours until we finally plucked up the courage to try a nibble! We were still alive the next morning and so quickly gobbled up the rest after frying it in butter and garlic. Sooo wonderfully tasty….! 🙂


Jennifer Solow

I first read this as “so happy to have you in my backyard” so I’ll respond to that first: so happy to have you in my backyard too, Rebecca!

And beyond that, so happy you tried Chicken of the Woods with your Shroom Nerd! I gorged myself for so many days I can honestly say I’m done with it for now. Until next year!



What a well-told tale. I love it when folk give a good story instead of just plonking down a recipe and expecting us to care (unless it is a damn good recipe). I am a nervous forager, dabbling in the safe end of brambles, wild garlic, nettle, sea asparagus and other easily identified plants. I have just looked up chicken of the woods and realise that I have seen it very often during litter pick ups at a local wood-shadowed river. I shall be more intrepid next time. Great post, Jennifer.


Jennifer Solow

Thanks, darlin’! You must try a chunk of it next time. I read that it’s one of the safest mushrooms because there are no look-alikes and that those “shelf-type” mushrooms are not poisonous. The worst case scenario is that they taste bad. I’ve also read that you really need to be careful that you’re not getting one off a conifer tree because it can make you sick. That said, I am FAR from a mushroom expert so do your shroom due diligence!
Let me know how you end up preparing it…next litter pick-up.


Patricia Rudd

Wanna come eat with you! Will happily settle for Tamal Pie pizza and a beer when you return to the West coast.


Jennifer Solow

Am here, Lady T! xxx


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: