One of the great things about late-summer deer scouting trips is that they coincide with peak chicken of the woods mushroom season around here. While not as popular as morel and chanterelle mushrooms, the chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) has a lot going for it.
For starters, it’s a big mushroom, often nearing 2 feet across. Next, with its bright orange and white colors, it stands out in the woods so you can spot it from a distance. Third, the chicken of the woods tastes really good. Just like their barnyard namesake, you can cook these mushrooms in a number of different ways, including fried, baked, sautéed, grilled, and stir-fried.
You’ll find chicken of the woods growing at the base of either living or dead trees. The mushroom sprouts in a shelflike pattern with individual brackets stacked on top of one another. The brackets have no stem and can range anywhere from 2 to 10 inches across. Younger chicken of the woods mushrooms are better table fare, as older specimens can get a bit woody. If you do find one that is a little bit tough, you can steam it for a few minutes before cooking to soften it up. These mushrooms can be found over most of North America.
There aren’t many real lookalikes for chicken of the woods, but as with all wild mushrooms, it is better to learn from an experienced forager or cross-reference at least two reputable field guides before consuming. Note that in a few people, chicken of the woods can cause a bit of gastric distress. If you have never eaten one before, it is best to start with small quantities to make certain you won’t have any issues. I always caution people to treat chicken of the woods just like you would raw chicken when cooking and make sure the mushroom is cooked through before eating.
My youngest son, Potroast, recently found this really nice white-pored chicken of the woods (Laetiporus cincinnatus) while putting out trail cameras for an upcoming deer hunt. White-pored chicken of the woods are one of the tastier varieties in our area and are perfect for this batter-fried version.
1 to 2 pounds chicken of the woods mushrooms, cut into strips and cleaned well
1 cup Kentucky Kernel or your favorite seasoned flour mixture
1 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 3/4 cups cold water
2 quarts peanut or vegetable oil, for frying (3 to 4 inches in pot)
Slice the mushrooms into strips and clean them well under cold water. Pat dry.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan or small Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
Start by mixing the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, black pepper, salt, paprika, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Pour in the cold water and stir with a fork or whisk until it forms a smooth batter.
Check the oil temperature. You want it to be around 340 to 350 degrees.
Dip a strip of mushroom into the batter, allowing the excess to drip back into the bowl. Gently lower the battered mushroom into the hot oil. Repeat the process, but don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook until the crust is golden brown and the mushroom is fully cooked through, about 7 to 9 minutes.
Remove the mushrooms from the hot oil to drain on a paper-lined baking sheet and repeat until all mushrooms are done. Serve with ranch dressing, Buffalo sauce, or your favorite dipping sauce.
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