As fall comes upon us, it’s that special time of year again for foragers who enjoy going after edible wild mushrooms. While many folks are familiar with mushrooms such as chanterelles and morels, laetiporis gilbertsonii “chicken of the woods,” often goes overlooked. One the of tastiest, and more rare mushrooms found during late summer and early fall, chicken of the woods is also called sulfur shelf. This is because of its distinct coloring and shape. Growing in large clusters and spanning a good amount of surface area, sometimes up to 24 inches across its fruiting body, sulfur shelf is bright yellow-orange and can be found growing from the side of hardwood logs and stumps. By hardwoods, we mean trees like oak, cottonwoods, bigleaf maple, red alder and Oregon ash. Sulfur shelf grows in overlapping, round shelves. The flesh of this mushroom is about 2-3 centimeters thick; its underside is an opaque yellow.
Seasoned woodsmen who come upon chicken of the woods will often take only a third of the mushroom, leaving the rest and marking the map coordinates to make it back for next season. When coming upon sulfur shelf, there is usually enough of it present to make this decision and benefit from it.
As with most mushrooms, after picking, place sulfur shelf in a cardboard box. Avoid placing it in a plastic bag if you can, as moisture is your enemy at that point in the harvest. Chicken of the Woods gets its name in part, due to the fact that you can prepare it in a similar manner to that of chicken. It doesn’t take long to dry and can be cut into strips for use in gravy or soups. It is also great deep-fried or baked, then eaten with dipping sauce. The texture of this mushroom is, (surprise, surprise) also similar to chicken. It does not have a very distinctive taste, so make sure to season it. Chicken of the Woods can be frozen for long periods of time as well.
Note: Be certain not to eat any sulfur shelf that have decayed past their prime. This can cause mild reactions such as nausea, swollen lips or disorientation.