I was out for a bike ride the other morning when something caught my eye. It was a massive orange cluster sticking up from a cut tree trunk. Although it was easily twenty yards off into the woods, I knew immediately what it was: chicken of the woods mushroom. If you have spent your fair share of time in the woods, there’s a good chance that you have encountered this mushroom along the way.
Chicken of the woods is one of the easiest mushrooms to find and identify. They are easy to locate because of their bright orange and yellow colors that stand out in the timber. They like to grow on deciduous trees—typically on living trees that are still standing, although they can be found on recently fallen trees. Most of the time, you’ll see a large orange and yellow shelf hanging off the side of a tree. They grow from the beginning of summer through the end of fall.
Chicken of the woods mushrooms should be smooth and free of holes. They get tough as they get older, so I recommend harvesting the younger, more tender fungi. The outer edges of the mushroom are usually the best, but the whole mushroom is edible. In the past, I’ve used them in lettuce wraps and deep-fried them. Another of my favorite ways to preserve chicken of the woods is to pickle it.
The texture of the mushroom is, not surprisingly, very similar to chicken. Some claim it actually tastes like chicken. With that in mind, I decided to prepare this batch like General Tso’s Chicken. I have a recipe from Hank Shaw for the General’s chicken, and it works well on everything. I have used it on rabbit, squirrel, and turtle with wonderful results.
This is Hank Shaw’s recipe, with a few minor changes. It serves four.
1 pound chicken of the woods mushroom, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 clove garlic minced
1/2 cup mushroom stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon maple sugar
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon corn starch
3 tablespoons peanut oil
8 dried hot tien tsien chiles, broken in half and seeds shaken out (use less if you don’t want it spicy)
1 tablespoon grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
6 green onions, chopped
1. Mix the batter ingredients together, then add the mushroom. Let sit for about 30 minutes ahead of time.
2. Heat 2 cups of peanut oil (or your favorite frying oil) to about 350 degrees. Fry the mushroom in small batches, taking care not to let the pieces stick together.
3. In a large pan or wok, heat 3 tablespoons of peanut oil and stir-fry the chilies for about a minute. Then add the ginger and cook for another minute. FInally, add the garlic and stir a couple of times in the pan.
4. Add all the mushroom pieces and the green onions. Pour the sauce mixture over the mushrooms and stir until it thickens. Once the sauce thickens, serve it over rice with fresh green onions chopped on top.