Identification, cooking and eating Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms
Updated: Sep 7
Chicken of the Woods or Laetiporus Sulphureus is a bright yellow, sometimes orange mushroom that loves to grow on Oaks.
Chicken of the woods is a bracket fungus, a member of the polypores and it feeds on older trees and it can get pretty big! It also goes by many other names, if you read my posts regularly you will know that so many wild foods have a huge list of names. Other names include; sulphur shelf, the chicken mushroom and chicken fungus. Its season is anytime from late Spring to Autumn but it is really easy to find after a summer storm or two.
The chicken of the woods mushroom is edible and widely enjoyed in the UK by keen mushroom hunters. As its name suggests can be used in many recipes as a replacement to chicken. Some say that it also has a similar taste to chicken, although I find it a bit more mushroomy than chicken like.
How to Identify Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms
The chicken of the woods is a bright sulphur-yellow fungus comprising several thick, overlapping brackets. It can be found across woodlands and even in towns and gardens. The individual brackets are soft and spongy when young. They are fan-shaped with an undulating margin, meaning that they have a wavy edge to their cap. The upper surface is velvety and yellow-orange with a zoned margin, while the underside is yellow and covered with pores.
Chicken of the Woods identification:
The outer layer of its cap is brilliant sulphur-yellow when young and suede-like, becoming leathery later. It attaches itself straight to the bark of the host tree. The shape of a young mushrooms can be bud-like at first, then fan or bracket shaped; sometimes growing alone, but more often in tiered clusters. Fully mature examples can get huge.
This fungus can grow remarkably big, sometimes up to half a metre across and where there is one there is usually a lot. Particularly if the tree, usually an oak is on its way out. Huge clusters or brackets of chicken of the woods mushrooms can be found together. Sometimes high up on weakened or dying trees. But don't get excited if you were lucky enough to find a huge example, as the bigger that they are, the less likely they are to be consumable.
The 'meat' of this mushroom is where it truly gets its name and is a great aid to identification.
The texture is fibrous and resembles cooked chicken meat. When young specimens are crushed, they release moisture (you may see drops of yellow liquid emitting from it). With age, the flesh becomes white and crumbly. The smell is very mushroomy, really mushroomy at times.
Chicken of the Woods Identification checklist:
Colour: Chicken of the Woods in the UK typically exhibits bright yellow to orange colouration, although variations can occur. The colour is often vibrant and eye-catching.
Shape and Size: It forms large, shelf-like or fan-shaped clusters of overlapping caps. In the UK, the caps can range from a few inches to over a foot (30 centimetres) in diameter, and they have a thick, fleshy texture.
Underside: The underside of the caps is smooth and features small pores that start white when young and become yellow as they mature.
Texture: When young, Chicken of the Woods in the UK is tender and succulent. With age, it can become tougher and more leathery. The flesh is generally substantial.
Stalk: The mushroom may have a short, stubby stem, or it may appear to be almost stemless, especially when growing in clusters on tree trunks. In many cases, the focus is on the caps.
Spore Print: The spore print of Chicken of the Woods is typically white to yellow, which is a helpful characteristic for identification.
Habitat: In the UK, Chicken of the Woods is commonly found on living or dead hardwood trees, especially oaks, beech, and occasionally yew. It also grows on tree stumps and fallen logs. The mushroom prefers decaying wood.
Time of Year: In the United Kingdom, Chicken of the Woods is most frequently encountered from late summer through autumn although there is an initial flush in Spring. Note that its appearance can vary somewhat depending on local conditions and microclimates.
As in any region, it's crucial to exercise caution when foraging for wild mushrooms in the UK. Accurate identification is essential to avoid toxic look-alike species. If you're not confident in your identification skills, consider seeking guidance from an experienced mycologist or using reliable field guides specific to the UK.
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Where can you find Chicken of the Woods?
Where do you find chicken of the woods? Well, it is a woodland mushroom - as the name suggests. It needs the moisture and protection provided by the trees and of course it needs the trees to grow on. But it does sometimes stray a little farther from the woods again, seeking out old oak trees. Most likely, you’ll find this mushroom in deciduous woodland; favouring oak and willow, but it can also be found on wild cherry and yew (if you find it on yew, you cannot eat it). Sometimes they grow alone, sometimes in small clumps.
Does Chicken of the Woods grow in the UK?
Chicken of the Woods is distributed across the entire United Kingdom. Sightings of this mushroom have been reported in various regions, indicating its presence throughout the country.
Whether it is in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, Chicken of the Woods can be found. The species is not limited to specific geographical areas and has a wide distribution across the UK (map right, courtesy of nbnatlas.org).
Woodland habitats, including both natural forests and urban green spaces, are common locations to find Chicken of the Woods. Additionally, the mushroom can be encountered in parks, gardens, and even along city streets. It has adapted to urban environments, often growing on decaying wood of ornamental trees.
While there may be regional variances in terms of abundance and timing of fruiting, Chicken of the Woods can be spotted in different parts of the country. Areas with a higher concentration of deciduous woodlands, such as the southern and southwestern regions of England and parts of Wales and Scotland, may offer more frequent sightings.
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What time of year is best to find Chicken of the Woods?
In the UK, the spring season for Chicken of the Woods typically starts in April or May and lasts until early June. During this time, you may find younger and smaller specimens of the mushroom.
The autumn season for Chicken of the Woods usually begins in late August or September and continues through October or November. This is the main fruiting period when you're more likely to find larger and more mature specimens of the mushroom.
This mushroom grows despite a lack of rain and seems fresh and succulent even during dry spells because obtaining its moisture and nutrition from the host tree. In winter you can sometimes find old specimens, if you do, check back in spring to see if it will continue to fruit.
Harvesting Chicken of the Woods
When harvesting this delicious mushroom make sure that you take only the youngest specimens, they are far more tender and softer. Mature caps tend to become crumbly and inedible - for more bouncy flesh always seek the youngest, brightest caps. Also, you don't have to take the whole thing. Cut of the freshest growth with a sharp knife, the brightest most unspoilt yellow sections. They are really good.
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How long does Chicken of the Woods keep?
Once harvested, Chicken of the Woods mushrooms can stay fresh for about one week. Store them in a paper bag or breathable container, not plastic. Keep them in the refrigerator to slow down decay. Make sure they stay dry and periodically check for any signs of spoilage.
The Chicken of the Wood Look Alike(s)
The chicken of the woods does have some 'false' or 'sort of' Look alikes that you'll need to be aware of. The first being the velvet-top fungus (see picture). Younger specimens of the velvet-top fungus are sometimes yellow or orange and bare some resemblance to the chicken of the woods. This mushroom is not poisonous, but nor is it edible and I am told that it is quite horrible to eat.
Another mushroom that could be confused with it is the honey fungus. We have listed them to show you as sometimes these have been referenced by foragers as chicken of the woods.
Honey fungus is the silent killer of the woods, they attack and kill trees, to the point at which outbreaks of honey fungus need to be controlled. Honey fungus is edible and quite different from the chicken of the woods mushroom, but we have listed them to show you other common mushrooms that could be mistaken.
Another potential look alike includes the jack o'lantern mushroom. Their orange colours and seasonal fruiting patterns resemble those of many chanterelle species, but unlike the latter fungi, jack o'lanterns are toxic. Do not eat them.
Also sometimes mistaken for chanterelles, these glow in the dark fungus are highly toxic and need to be avoided.
This is a good time to say, that if you are not experienced in mushroom hunting, do not eat any mushrooms unless positively identified by a professional or accomplished guide.
Want to learn more about wild mushrooms? Click the link to see our guide to foraging wild mushrooms in the UK.
Is the Chicken of the Woods Edible?
Can you eat the chicken of the woods mushroom? Well, there is a few things that you need to know here. Firstly, it does sometimes grow on yew trees. This makes them toxic, so stick to fungus found on oaks or sweet chestnuts. Also, you cannot eat this mushroom raw. Many times, I have heard people ask, 'can I eat the chicken of the woods mushroom raw?' No. It must be cooked and thoroughly cooked at that. Also, be aware, that some people will have a natural intolerance to it. Unfortunately, you'll only find this out upon eating the mushroom. Largely, most people are ok.
Is Chicken of the Woods tasty?
Very. When it comes to eating this mushroom, I have a very simple and delicious recipe. It is best sauteed and simply cooked. It is quite a dry mushroom. As we know it needs to be cooked well to safely consume it. The solution is very simple. I like to fry the mushroom in a lot of butter!! I cut mine into sections about the width of two fingers as long as the piece of mushroom you have, treating it similar to a steak. Get a little colour on the mushrooms first and then add some seasoning and a little fresh thyme alongside a splash of water. You'll want to cook them for at least 10 minutes. Make sure that the water has evaporated and then stack the sections on a thick slice of sourdough toast. Lap the herby butter over the mushrooms and devour.
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Chicken of the Woods Taste
So what does it taste like? Chicken of the woods mushrooms have a unique taste often described as meaty, savoury, and reminiscent of mushroom'y chicken. When cooked, they can have a tender texture and a mild flavour that could be likened to poultry. Some people compare the taste to that of crab or lobster, while others find it more like a vegetable with a hint of umami. The flavour can vary depending on the age and preparation of the mushroom. But let's be honest, they have a deep mushroom'y taste. Very delicious.
Chicken of the Woods Recipes
So, how to cook chicken of the woods? It can be cooked into a whole host of recipes, think of it as a replacement for chicken and cook it for a similar amount of time. From pasta dishes, to stir-fry’s, roasted to risottos, the list of recipes for this yummy mushroom are endless.. Below are a couple of our favourite things to do with this funky fungus.
Curried Chicken of the Woods Soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
750g chopped chicken of the woods mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger (finely chopped)
1 dried chilli
500ml chicken stock
100ml milk or cream
tbsp garam masala
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the onion, chilli (whole) and ginger and cook for 5 mins until the onions to soften. Add the mushrooms, increase the heat to high and cook for 10 mins until tender and golden, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, turmeric and garam masala and cook for 1 min.
Pour the stock into the pan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, take out your chilli and discard. Blend until smooth.
Next add the milk (or cream, depending on how rich you like it) and reheat. Season and serve.
Chicken of the Woods and Leek Pie
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 medium leeks, washed, and thickly sliced into rings
750g chicken of the woods, cut into bite-size pieces
1 garlic clove, chopped
150ml white wine
150ml chicken stock
142ml carton double cream
Sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves picked and roughly chopped
375g pack ready-rolled puff pastry
1 egg beaten
In a large frying pan, cook the onions and leeks with a pinch of salt, until soft and translucent (do not allow to colour).
Next add the mushrooms to the pan and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the garlic, add the wine and stock and reduce by half. Next add the cream and tarragon, bring to the boil, then simmer until thickened. Check the seasoning, then pour into a pie dish. Allow to cool.
Once cool, roll out your pastry to the size of your tin. Brush the sides of the tin with egg and seal the pie topping with the pastry. Chill in the fridge whilst your oven warms up to 200 degrees (fan).
Egg wash your pastry top and bake for 40 minutes until the pie is heated through and the pastry golden and crunchy.
The chicken of the woods is an excellent eating mushroom and really common too. It can be incredibly generous in terms of the volume of mushroom that you can get off of a single specimen, so when you do find it, experiment, try lots of recipes and enjoy its fantastic taste and texture. During your next woodland walk keep an eye out for it. You may find this one easier than you think.
Caution: Never eat wild mushrooms that have not been 100% positively identified as edible. Wild mushrooms can be toxic and even fatal. Always forage safely and sustainably.
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