Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are incredibly common in the woods, and they’re commonly found at farmers markets and specialty stores. Wild mushrooms are only just beginning to become a part of American culinary traditions, and it can be tricky to find chicken of the woods recipes.
While grocery store mushrooms tend to taste, well, like mushrooms, wild mushrooms can taste like anything. Candy cap mushrooms taste a bit like maple syrup and work well in sweet recipes. Chanterelles have a fruity taste and smell surprisingly like apricots, and they tend to work well in both savory and sweet recipes. They’re just as much at home in a chanterelle risotto as they are a chanterelle ice cream.
Chicken of the woods mushrooms, on the other hand, are savory mushrooms. They’re surprisingly like chicken, in both texture and flavor.
When I picked up half a pound of chicken of the woods mushrooms at the farmers market, the forager shared his favorite cooking method. “They’re just like chicken,” he said. “Marinade them in a bit of buttermilk and then fry them up as chicken of the woods nuggets, your kids will love them.”
I followed his instructions and made them with my buttermilk fried chicken recipe. I’ve also made crispy fried woodchuck with this recipe, so you can see it’s quite versatile…just about anything tastes good marinaded in buttermilk, battered and deep fried.
My kids didn’t notice the difference, and happily ate chicken of the woods mushroom nuggets as if they were meat. I won’t pretend that my toddlers have discriminating palates, but the fact that they didn’t notice in either flavor or texture is a good sign that these are a great meat substitute.
Most chicken of the woods recipes seem to take a chicken recipe and directly substitute the mushrooms in place of the chicken to make a vegan or vegetarian version. Fried mushroom nuggets are a particularly common option. Here are a few variations:
- Chicken Fried Chicken of the Woods
- Southern Fried Chicken of the Woods (Vegan)
- Beer Battered Chicken of the Woods (Vegan)
Just about every recipe I could find was vegetarian, if not vegan, with the exception of this Chicken Smothered with Chicken of the Woods which seems to be playing on the novelty of topping the chicken with a chicken substitute.
Chicken of the woods in cream sauce or topping pasta was also a recurring theme. Mushrooms always taste better in cream, and these are no exception.
- Simple Chicken of The Woods in Cream Sauce
- Chicken of the Woods Pasta Sauce
- Chicken of the Woods Mac and Cheese
I’ve also found a number of recipes that keep things really simple, and just treat the mushroom as if it were a whole chicken breast. They even present it on the plate like a hunk of meat.
Other chicken of the woods recipes are a bit more subtle, slicing the mushrooms into small pieces and incorporating them into a well-rounded dish in place of chicken.
- Chicken of the Woods Stir Fry with Foraged Vegetables
- Wild Mushroom Tart
- Chicken of the Woods Pot Pie
Preserving Chicken of The Woods Mushrooms
While some mushrooms, like morels, have a very short season, chicken of the woods fruit all summer long and into the fall. This means they’re available fresh in most locations for at least 6 months of the year. Still, if you’ve gotten hooked on chicken of the woods mushrooms as a meat substitute, then you’ll want a way to preserve them for use in the offseason.
The most common methods to preserve them are freezing and pickling. Freezing is more versatile in some ways because it doesn’t add acid and leaves a cleaner taste, but the texture is sacrificed in the process. To freeze chicken of the woods mushrooms, start by sauteeing them in a lot of butter with some aromatic herbs. Cooking helps preserve their texture a bit. Add the butter into the freezer container to coat and seal the mushroom away from air and moisture to prevent freezer burn.
If you’d like to try your hand at making chicken of the woods pickles, there’s a simple recipe here.