Well the mushroom season is upon us and this year seems to be a strange one starting and stopping with the lack of rain and the high temperatures bringing periods of little growth and then good flushes ,
The fantastically vibrant chicken of the woods has been no exception I at one point was thinking I wouldn’t be finding any as frequent trips to my spots came up short but they came just later than I expected .
It’s worth remembering as long as the tree can stand once a cotw has fruited they will continue to season upon season a very predictable fungi if harvested in the correct way .
To harvest without damaging the mycelium cut the body away from the tree leaving about 2cm attached to the host never rip from the tree as this will damage the mycelium and result in a gap year fruiting or no further growths at all .
Chicken of the Woods , Laetiporus sulphureus is a bracket fungi which grows in many country’s of the world
It has a few common names but chicken of the woods and sulphur polypore seem to be the most frequently used . It grows in trees that are either living as parasites or on decaying trees as saprobes and the result of the fungi is the heart of the tree is destroyed destabilising it which lends them prone to damage from weather .
It grows on a number of trees but is most commonly found on oak and can yield massive amounts of the fruiting body my biggest to date is 14.8 kgs but I have seen peoples finds well into the 20kg and wow what a sight they can be a mass of golden floating shelves or when young a lava like growth oozing from a tree .
The good thing about cotw is that there is no nasty lookalikes if it’s orange toped with creamy yellow pores it’s a chicken although some evidence shows that if found growing from a yew tree it may contain the toxins found in the host tree this is a subject that is undoubtedly is discussed by all foragers that go in search of this prized wild edible my advise is learn the possible danger asses the risk and then and only then make a educated personal choice once you have all the information and if sharing your harvest make the information available so individual choices can be made .
So the next big question is now you have a mass of edible fungi what are you going to do with it ? More often or not being that the fruiting body’s are so big preserving some is needed , I will be honest until this season I’ve been really lazy and the brackets are simply frozen fresh and thawed out when needed as they lose nothing in flavour or texture from being frozen .
I have been experimenting with salting and pickling lactarius and have seen numerous recipes for pickling cotw but somehow thought it wouldn’t retain any flavour other than the pickling mix itself and without a crunch i wasn’t convinced it could become something special so I began experimenting and one thing I have always got from cotw is a fruity after-tone not lemony but cantaloupe Mellon, it has a obvious mushroomy smell and when young and fried does resemble a chicken texture but more importantly it is very similar in texture to peaches and this got me thinking ,
I make lots of jams and jellys and syrups as I have a sweet tooth and eat lots of foraged food and in all honesty sweet is hard to find outside of fruit .
I have found two recipes that work well but are dependant on the age of the fruiting body , firstly I will share the young fruiting body recipes at a stage of growth before the brackets curl into leaves .
I started playing using a sweet brine ( a 50/50 salt and sugar ) to preserve some young pieces I tried both raw and pre cooked pieces , the cooked batch had good depth of flavour the colour was constant whereas the uncooked became dull and lacked visual appeal , but both batches still seemed to battle the salt the flavour simply didn’t marry well .
I continued to play with the mix reducing the salt and increasing the sugar until I came to the resolve that the salt just wasn’t needed .
So after playing I’ve come up with a syrup preserved cotw which is a pleasant tasting good texture addition to my store .
Take your cotw and cut it into strips that are roughly 5-8mm thick place these into a pan of boiling water for 3-4 minutes making sure the water is at a rolling boil before adding the mushroom ( this not only tenderises the mushroom but helps it retain colour and reduces the risk of gastric reaction).
Then allow to drain in a cool place preferably a frost free fridge for at least 12 hours it’s important that it is dry to touch and any residual moisture is removed .
You then need to decide on a syrup
As we are using the syrup as a preserve it needs to be a 50/50 mix sugar to water if you are happy to reduce the shelf life you can substitute up to half if the sugar for honey .
I use a mix of 75 percent artificial syrup and some birch syrup I had previously made ( which can be substituted for maple syrup ) as the smokey flavour works really well with the taste of the cotw .
I found that I had to make the syrup mix and allow it to cool before adding it to the jars and mushroom or it sucked out the colour , I then jarred it and placed it into water and slowly raise the temp to between 100-110 degrees and hold that for 10-15 minutes to ensure the syrup and cotw are equally heated .
Now leave to cool naturally and store in a dark cool place .
I’ve used this now in salads strait from the jar and fried it becomes a crunchy sweet addition to pasta dishes .
My second recipe is when the fungi has fully opened into it’s Curly leaves and if you’ve eaten this at the older stage you will know the texture changes from a soft and meat like to a firm almost processed meat consistency that can almost be mealy and much firmer .
This is a completely different process more a cure than a preserve and the taste and texture offers itself to uses not suitable for the syrup based preserve
Step one is to roughly chop the cotw Into chunks and place into a sealable bag onto a bed of salt preferably natural sea salt and sprinkle salt over the top and leave for 24 hrs , at this point the cotw will have released a lot of its own moisture and you will note the strong mushroomy aroma .
Remove the first release if moisture and keep as you will need it again .
Then place into a fresh bag and add a finely chopped Gallic clove , a teaspoon of thyme and 3/4 crushed pepper corns and a generous sprinkling of salt and leave in the fridge for a further 4/5 hours .
If you are lucky enough to have a vac pack add 1/3 of the original liquid and pack and store in the fridge ( many local butchers will be more than happy to seal these for you for a small fee )
If not add all of the original liquid and a 50/50 water salt solution into a sealable jar until the cotw is completely covered and store .
I recommend washing before cooking with this method but the depth of flavour is something quiet tantalising .