When I was out collecting elderflowers for cordial the other day, I caught a glimpse of bright orange in the bushes. After carefully squeezing past the nettles and brambles to investigate, I found myself standing on a pile of old logs. I bent down to peer behind one of the larger logs and my suspicions were confirmed – I had found some chicken of the woods! Unfortunately someone else had got there before me – most of the fungus had been nibbled on by a slug, and it was covered in it’s slime. I managed to salvage a small piece, then hurried off to check a spot I remembered from a few years back.
Here the pickings were much better, just more difficult to get to. Like other bracket fungi chicken of the woods often grows halfway up a tree. After clambering up the side of the old oak I was rewarded with a decent lump of fungus and a few scratches from a dead branch breaking. It was a nice young specimen meaning it will be tender when cooked; they can be dry and chalky if picked too late. It also grows on on willow and cherry. Never eat any found on a yew tree as it is potentially very toxic.
It is easy to forget edible fungi can be found nearly all year round, as mushroom hunting is normally seen as solely an autumnal pursuit, but now is the best time for this fungus. As it’s name suggests it has a very similar texture and appearance to chicken, with a strong smell but relatively mild flavour when compared to some other wild fungi. As with most mushrooms it is delicious simply fried in butter with garlic, but I decided to try something a bit more complicated and make a pie to provide some comforting warmth on an unusually cold and wet June day.
For the filling I used milk, bay leaf, thyme and stock mixed with sliced chicken of the woods, sautéed shallots and leek and simmered for half an hour. I thickened the mixture by making the base for a white sauce without the cheese, although cheese or cream would go well in this recipe. I then poured it all into a pie dish and topped it with some shortcrust pastry brushed with oil and cooked in the oven at 200C for 35 mins. The result was delicious, a thick herby sauce with succulent chunks of mushroom; unlike most other edible fungi chicken of the woods keeps a solid, meaty texture when cooked.