Chicken of the Woods
Everyone seems to have heard of Chicken of the Woods. It seems almost legendary in it’s fame. It is in fact a common mushroom of British woods and hedgerows. It is one of the most prized and delicious edible fungi. It has the texture of succulent chicken breast with a hint of lemon. It can be used as an alternative in any dish that uses chicken breast turning them into a vegetarian delight.
It is a bracket fungus that grows on trees, mostly willow, cherry and oak but many other trees too. It will grow on conifers, including yew, but it is best not too harvest it from these trees as it may have assimilated toxins from them, especially yew.
Chicken of the Woods first appears as bright yellow blobs which seem to be oozing out of the tree. Over a few days these develop into more definite knobbly lumps. The lumps develop a thick yellow lip as they turn into brackets. The top of the bracket is orange and the lip and undersurface remain bright yellow. This is the best stage to harvest as the flesh will be soft and succulent with a lemony zing.
As the brackets mature the lip disappears. They become hard as the flesh dries out and becomes pale and chalky in texture. Once the flesh gets chalky there is no way to make it palatable again. The old brackets remain on the trees for many months and evidence of them can often been seen the following year looking like pieces of mouldy polystyrene stuck to the trunk or on the ground below.
Chicken of the Woods can be a very prolific mushroom. You can get over 40 kilograms from a willow in a single harvest. Most other trees have about 3 to 10 kilos. It will continue to produce mushrooms on the same tree for many years until the tree is completely rotted and collapses. You can find Chicken of the Woods any time from early summer to late autumn. It likes warm wet weather and tends to grow in sunny spots.