We might have different reasons for loving the autumn season. While others get excited about pumpkin spice in their coffee and apple fritters, I get weird with some fungus. Because every forager knows that fall is perfect time for mushroom foraging.
Living in the PNW for many years, October was the month of Chanterelles, Lobster, and other mushrooms that love the evergreen forests of Washington state. Being back in the Midwest this autumn, I soon realized that the pacific Northwest isn't the only place for fantastic fall fungi foraging.
When out going for a walk one cloudy day, I saw a bright orange beacon in a tree. I knew in an instant that it was Chicken of the Woods.
Chicken of the Woods is a mushroom I had heard legends about. How the texture and taste was just like Chicken. Was this just some vegan wive's tale or was it actually true? I was about to find out.
Many Chicken of the Woods recipes say that the best way to consume this gourmet mushroom is to fry it. Chicken nuggets, tenders, parmesan...the fried chicken possibilities are endless. I decided to try a simple breaded recipe, and it did not disappoint!
How to Identify
Chicken of the Woods is an easy beginner mushroom to forage. It's a bracket mushroom and found on both living and dead oak trees (as well as other hardwoods), either at the base or trunk. This mushroom is orange in color and a fan-shape. Chicken of the Woods are polypores, which mean they have no gills but tiny pores under the caps that release the spores. It's good for starter foragers since there are hardly any false look-a-likes.
I was shocked when I found out that this mushroom is SUPER high in protein. In fact, 100g of Chicken of the Woods contains 21g of protein. That's on parr to actual chicken, making them a great plant-based substitute for vegans, vegetarians, or anyone who wants to switch up their protein intake. This fungi is also high in antioxidants and anti inflammatory properties, making it a great healthy addition to your diet...at least for the autumn season.
Notes on Cooking
When foraging any mushroom, it's important to properly wash and store your fungi. From my years of mushroom foraging, the best container to store your mushrooms is a paper bag. Mushrooms contain a lot of water and when stored in a plastic bag or container, this water becomes trapped and your mushrooms will get soggy and decompose faster. A paper bag is breathable and allows your mushrooms to keep longer.
Since water is an issue with mushrooms, when washing your mushrooms (which is important to get rid of any extra dirt or microbacteria), a vegetable brush with light water is a good way to clean them. Afterwards, be sure to pat dry with a paper towel to remove any excess water.
So ready to try something that actually tastes like chicken and is a fun fungi to forage for this fall? Check out my recipe below!
Fried Chicken of the Woods
(4) 2 oz pieces of chicken of the woods (cleaned + dried)
1 cup of plain flour*
Extra Virgin Olive oil (for frying)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
black pepper (to taste)
salt (to taste)
Cut the base off your mushrooms that were touching the tree. Trim off any mushy or flaky bits around the edges. Repeat for all.
In a medium to large mixing bowl, mix 1 cup flour with your spices (paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper). Mix well to combine. Set aside.
In a small dish, whisk 1 egg. Set aside.
Take a mushroom and toss it in the flour mixture. Then transfer to the egg bath (to coat), and then the flour mixture again. Make sure the mushroom is fully coated. Set aside and repeat.
In a skillet over medium heat, add your oil. You want to make sure the bottom of the pan is fully covered in a sheet of oil for frying.
Cook mushrooms for 2-4 minutes on each side. Set on plate to cool.
Serve with lemon and enjoy!
*Note: You can replace the flour with cornflakes for an alternative extra crunch to your fried Chicken of the Woods.