While “foraged food” has recently become popularized, it is perhaps the oldest form of living off the land. I am thankful for a family cottage in northwestern Michigan that has year after year provided endless opportunity for woodland strolls and foraging discovery.
Traipsing through the woods with my childhood pals I accidentally fell into eating seasonal treats straight from the earth. We’d be gone for hours in the deep beech forest…a handful of blueberries here, a sweet young sprig of sassafras (like root beer) there, a spicy green ramp leaf to top it off.
Thanks to an accidental morel mushroom bounty my husband and I stumbled upon, oh how I have become fixated on fungi. As a rule of thumb, a beginner mushroom forager must seek the help of an experienced mushroom hunter and commence with easily identified species. All the better when the mushroom is striking and lacks poisonous look-alikes! Several years now into our mushroom mania (we spend nearly 90% of our up north vacations hiking) we had the joy of finding a beautiful and uncommon species: The Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus sp.
In a setting of earthy browns and greens, this mushroom radiates like a beacon among the trees with its bright orange and sulphur yellow fans. The consistency is dense, often described like cooked chicken, and the flesh is white. In order to get the most tender cooking results with this mushroom, it is recommended to harvest only younger specimens. For many a vegetarian and vegan out there, this is a delightful entree substitute.
In my experience slower, longer cooking is best for this dense species in order for it to absorb flavors well. For this reason, I will share a recipe below for “Hearty Woodland Chicken Veggie Soup”…perfect for the fall.
- - 2 cups water
- - 2 cups broth of choice
- - 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- - 1.5 lbs Chicken of the Woods mushroom cut into ¾" strips
- - 1 large onion chopped
- - 2 tablespoons olive oil
- - 2 garlic cloves minced
- - 6 medium carrots, cut diagonally into ⅓" slices
- - 3 celery ribs cut crosswise
- - ½ a fresh lemon juice
- - ½ teaspoon turmeric
- - salt to taste
- - ¼ teaspoon crushed black pepper
- - 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- Bring water, broth and milk to simmer in a 2-3 quart pot. Add chicken and simmer another 10 minutes. Set aside.
- In separate pan cook onion in oil, over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add carrots, celery, seasonings and cook covered until softened for about 10 minutes.
- Next, add the liquid and "chicken" and simmer on low until the veggies and chicken of the woods mushroom are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in parsley when finished. (I threw a spare garden chive on top of mine!)