Chicken-of-the-Woods (Polyporous sulphureus)—also known as “Sulphur Shelf”—is a great mushroom for beginners. It has a great flavor and texture, can be used in a wide range of recipes, and is relatively easy-to-find because of its bold color and large size. It is not uncommon for a single mushroom to way as much as fifty-pounds!
It gets its name because its texture and taste is strongly reminiscent of chicken. Consequently, it can be used in vegan and vegetarian cooking as a substitute in recipes where chicken is needed.
Chicken-of-the-Woods mushrooms are found on dead or injured deciduous trees. They can be found either on fallen or standing trees.
Their bright orange appearance makes them relatively easy to spot. They definitely stand out in the woods:
Chicken-of-the-Woods is distinguished by its large, many leveled brackets or shelves. These are overlapping, flat, and fan-shaped. They typically are 2 to 12 inches across. These are typically found growing up the trunk of a tree or along a fallen log:
Like other polypore mushrooms, the underside of Chicken-of-the-Woods mushrooms are covered in holes (pores):
There are no poisonous look-alikes for Chicken-of-the-Woods.
The younger you can find a Chicken-of-the-Woods mushroom, the better it will taste. If a knife can slice through the mushroom with ease, it is worth taking. With a mushroom that is past its prime, you can sometimes cut off the edges and use those while leaving the majority of the mushroom. Mushrooms should also be examined for insect infestation. The mushrooms are great in soups, sautéed in oil, or used in recipes.
Chicken-of-the-Woods will keep returning each year on the same tree as long as there is enough plant material to provide it with nutrients, so it may be worth remembering the location when you find the mushrooms.