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!