Mushroom of the Week: Chicken of the Woods


Chicken of the Woods is one of the “Top 4” easiest edible mushrooms to identify.   It is right up there with Morels, Puffballs, and the Shaggy Mane.

Its bright orange colors can shine through the woods from a hundred feet away, often revealing an awe-inspiring display; brilliant, impressive, and almost magical. Their overlapping orange caps with yellow margins give them a distinctive appearance, suggestive of a colorful female bird’s plumage, but their nickname is actually derived from the texture of their flesh. They are a reasonable replacement for chicken in just about any dish you choose. Nicknamed COWs, people make BBQ COW Wings for football games or use them in stir-fries. I recommend trying them in a COW Quiche. Their flavor pairs exceptionally well with cheese and egg. (Recipe below).

Chicken of the Woods is a member of that crazy group of mushrooms referred to as the “Poultry of the Woods.”  That list includes Hen of the Woods, Hawk’s Wings, Bird’s Nest, Parrot Toadstool, Turkey Tails, and even Rooster of the Woods. Now is the time of year when Chickens start showing up in the forest, and their season continues until fall, although late spring and summer is their prime time.

Chicken of the Woods, in our part of the country, are either one of two species of polypores, also called shelf, or bracket fungi.  

Laetiporus sulphureus is orange on top with a bright yellow pore surface underneath, its spore-bearing surface. It is always found growing directly out of wood on tree trunks, logs, or at the base of trees.  Its cousin Laetiporus cincinnatus is also orange on top with a white pore surface underneath.  It decays the roots of trees only, not their trunks, and is found at the base of trees or up to as much as twenty feet away.  Though they may appear to be growing out of the earth, they are actually growing out of the tree roots beneath.

There are cautions about eating these species because they are responsible for more gastric upset than almost any other mushroom in the forest.  This is most often due simply to undercooking them and, to a lesser extent, to individual sensitivities to digesting their unique tissue.  Cook them long and slow; directions are below.

Laetiporus sulphureus has less tender tissue than its cousin.  Cut off the outer 1- or 2-inch margin of their overlapping caps.  You can see circumferential lines on them to follow as a guide, and you can also feel the supple outer margin of their caps.  In contrast, you can usually use all of the tissue of Laetiporus cincinnatus, depending on how fresh and young they are.  When first eating COWs, limit your tasting to just a forkful or two.  Ideally, you should wait eight hours to be sure you do not have an individual sensitivity to them, even though this is very uncommon.

By contrast, I have served my COW Quiches to hundreds and hundreds of people over decades and have never heard of anyone reacting to them.  I believe this is due to cooking them for a very long time before adding them to the dish.  Relay this information to your guests also before serving them.

And of course, always be 100% certain of your identification of any wild mushroom and confirm it with an expert before eating.

Cooking With Mushrooms

Chicken of the Woods Quiche

  • 1 med. onion, or 2 small shallots
  • 2 Cups Chicken of the Woods, pre-cooked
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ Cup Madeira or Marsala wine
  • 2 Cups grated cheeses: Colby and Swiss or Gruyere
  • 8 eggs (4 yolks + 4 whole)
  • 1-2/3 Cups heavy cream (or a bit less)
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 2 pie crusts
  • Chives, minced

Cook Mushrooms:  Place medium-sized pieces in a large fry pan in a single layer covering the bottom only.  Cover and cook on med-low heat 10-15 mins.  Try not to open the pan much, keeping their moisture in.  Depending on how moist yours are, add small amounts of broth to continue cooking without burning.  Cook them an extra 5 mins. by adding 1-1/2 tbls butter until they start to singe a bit.  Alternatively, you can roast them, covered in the oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 mins, or if you are using onions or other items that need cooking in your dish, cook the COW’s at least 5 min., covered on med-low heat, then add those ingredients and be sure to cook at least another 15 minutes.  All these methods vary depending on how dry or fresh your mushroom is. Use your own judgment.

Sauté onions on low heat until mostly translucent.  Add the cooked mushrooms and garlic and cook a few more minutes.  Add 2 large splashes of Madeira and cook off.  Allow to cool.

Mix eggs, heavy cream, nutmeg, pepper and salt in a bowl

Mix cheese with the cool mushroom/onion mixture.

Assemble the cheese/mushroom mixture into the 2 pie crusts (frozen crusts work fine).  Scoop the egg mixture into each quiche equally.  Sprinkle some chives on top.

Cook at 350° for 35-40 mins removing before the crust edges get too browned.

This recipe also works well with Chanterelles or white Button Mushrooms that don’t need cooking more than about 10 mins.

food and drink, edible fungi, foods, chicken of, organisms, laetiporus, grifola, laetiporus persicinus, colby, laetiporus cincinnatus