A Chicken of the Woods

ChickenOfTheWoodsBy Colin Stone Peacock

I am the glistening, blackened, and charred non-stick remains of a foodie. Enameled by years of cooking and eating professionally, I am unphased by the most ample and esoteric culinary ingredients and pathologies.

But the bitter kimchi of my heart sweetened ever so slightly the summer before last, when I met the bright and gleaming orange and yellow folds of Laetiporus sulphureus, commonly known as Chicken of the Woods.

It is one of the most easily identifiable, seasonally available, and tastiest mushrooms I have ever met. The drab and fickle morels of my forefathers will never look the same. Chicken is the flavor I would use to describe them. That, and a citric tanginess I have never encountered in another fungi.

You will find them from early spring and even to the late fall, in a variety of habitats, but almost always on dead logs and stumps.

Taste a small bite and see how you react before proceeding along a glutinous slaughter of chicken-of-the-woods, for though there are no dangerous look-alikes, some people have had mild gastrointestinal distress after eating them.

When mature, their texture is similar to dry-cooked chicken, and they lend themselves well to heavy seasoning, marinading, and stews. Fajitas, hand pies, and stir-frys are just a few examples of how I have used them to great effect.

After the next batch of young chickens are plucked from their woody nests, I think I will fire up the grill with shagbark hickory shells. Hot smoking their tender bodies while basting them liberally with lime-cilantro-smoked aji pepper- garlic-butter.

When he’s not outside as a naturalist, Colin Stone Peacock is often in the kitchen as a chef.

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