Who needs the fake meat section at the supermarket, when there are a variety of meat substitute fungi that vegetarians, vegans and even carnivores will enjoy. Following on from my last post on the Beefsteak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica), I give you the Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus). A superior species in both texture and flavour, this fungus can be easily identified by its tiers of bright orange/yellow brackets, cascading down the bark of the trees from which they emerge. It helps to look up to find this species; once you do you will wonder how you missed it, with its large brackets, reaching 10-40cm across.
It favours oak trees but can also be found on cherry, sweet chestnut, willow and yew (avoid specimens found on the latter – yew is a poisonous tree and the fungus may take up toxins from it). The upper surface of the bracket is usually bumpy and wrinkled with a wavy edge, while underneath the yellow pores are visible.
Tear into the flesh and you should find it moist and remarkably like cooked chicken, exuding a yellowish juice when squeezed.
Avoid older specimens where the flesh is white and chalky textured; these will mostly be found around September and October as this common fungus can be found from late spring to autumn. You are unlikely to confuse Chicken of the Woods with other species as its bright colouration is a giveaway. However, there are other large, common bracket fungi, none of which are poisonous, but some are unpalatable or clearly too tough to eat.
It should be noted before trying Chicken of the Woods that some people appear to have a sensitivity to it. This can take the form of dizziness, gastrointestinal problems and even hallucinations. This may be due to the particular tree species from which the fungus has been acquired of just a reaction to it in general. In any case try a small piece for your first time and ensure it has been well cooked (when raw this species contains toxins that are destroyed by heat).
With that warning out the way, let’s move on to a recipe. As the name suggests, this Chicken of the Woods can be used as a chicken substitute in any dish requiring that particular meat. The cooked texture and appearance of the fungus is remarkably similar to chicken, and its relatively bland flavour but firm texture lends itself to dishes with strong sauces or marinades. With this in mind I made a quick, simple and tasty creamy pasta sauce served with spaghetti.
You will need:
2 Red Onions
A couple of handfuls of Chicken of the Woods sliced into strips
Creme Fraiche (or nut cheese if vegan)
3 cloves of garlic
Salt and Pepper
Melt plenty of butter and oil (or just oil) in a frying pan on a medium heat and add the Chicken of the Woods and the onions. Ensure all the fungus is cooked thoroughly and the onions have started to brown. (This is a good time to start cooking the spaghetti).
Turn the heat down to low and season liberally with salt and pepper and add the tarragon. Crush or finely grate the garlic into the pan and cook on the low heat for a few minutes. Take the pan off the heat to cool slightly before adding the crème fraiche.
For a vegan alternative to crème fraiche you can do no better than Raw Food Rosie’s Original Classic Cashew Brie available at: https://www.etsy.com/listing/271292380/orignal-classic-cashew-brie
Drain the spaghetti and serve with veggie Parmesan-style hard cheese or a vegan alternative.