Meet the Mushroom That Tastes Exactly Like Its Name Suggests: Chicken of the Woods

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I’m a mushroom enthusiast. I’ve eaten a bunch of different kinds, and thanks to the fact that I have a partner who enjoys foraging for them in the woods, I get them fresh and perfect, straight from the ground.

I’ll admit to being basic – morels are my favorite – but the chicken of the woods is hearty enough to take the place of meat in any dish you’d like.

And yes, it does taste very much like chicken.

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Chicken of the Woods mushrooms don’t look like anything you’ll find on a grocery store shelf – they’re shaped like saucers and bright orangish-yellow, for starters. They’re delicious and chock-full of vitamins, but beware – they also have a lookalike that could quite literally kill you.

They look a bit like cabbage in the wild (except for their brighter color), with wavy, curved edges that are typically lighter in color than their center. They form on the tree in layers, with their underside a unique spray of tiny, round pores in the place of the more common gills.

Chicken mushrooms are also huge – up to 20 inches per mushroom – and some clusters have grown up to 100 pounds in weight.

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They grow in North America, Europe, and in some parts of Asia, feeding on trees (particularly the oak) dead or alive. They can kill their hosts, if its alive when the begin growing, allowing damaging decay to spread.

Now, to the warnings: if the mushroom is growing on a cedar, pine, or other conifer, you might want to pass. Some of the oils from those types of trees will seep into the mushroom and cause unpleasant tummy troubles down the line.

There are also different species of Chicken of the Woods, not all of which should be eaten, so make sure you’re positive you’ve got the right one. There are websites out there that can show you how to pinpoint the differences between the lookalikes and the real deal.

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You don’t each these mushrooms raw – make sure you cook them to your taste.

While they do taste like chicken, the texture is perhaps a bit more like lobster or crab, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

I highly encourage you to (responsibly) seek these guys out and add them to a favorite dish – you won’t be sorry, and your next Meatless Monday will be extra delicious!