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Dried Chicken of the Woods
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Dried Chicken of the Woods mushrooms widely range in size as they are frequently sliced or separated into smaller pieces during the dehydrating process. Fresh Chicken of the Woods mushrooms average 5 to 25 centimeters in diameter and have a thick, broad, and fan-like disc shape with distinct pores on the underside of the fungus. When dried, the mushrooms retain their wide, smooth appearance and become thinner and flattened with wavy, curved edges. Dried Chicken of the Woods mushrooms also bear variegated hues of ivory, pale yellow, orange, and red giving the surface a watercolor-washed appearance. The dried mushroom's texture is brittle, dry, and crumbling, containing an earthy and faint, forest-floor aroma. When reconstituted, Chicken of the Woods mushrooms will absorb moisture, thicken, and plump, releasing a mild, earthy, and neutral umami flavor.
Dried Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are available year-round.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms, botanically a part of the Laetiporus genus, is a general descriptor used for several wild mushroom species found throughout North America, Europe, and Northern Asia. The polypore mushroom is a bracket fungus that grows on decaying wood and is also known as the Chicken mushroom, Chicken fungus, 50-Mile-An-Hour mushroom, and Sulfur Shelf mushroom. There are about twelve different species of Chicken of the Woods mushrooms found within the Polyporaceae family, and the mushrooms earned their name from their fabled chicken-like flavor. Despite their meat moniker, Chicken of the Woods mushrooms contain an earthy, fungal flavor and are more well-known for their dense, meat-like texture. The mushrooms are primarily eaten fresh, but some foragers dehydrate the mushrooms for extended use. It is important to note that Chicken of the Woods mushrooms generally do not reconstitute well and are preferably dried, ground into a powder, and are used as a flavoring rather than as whole mushrooms.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are a source of vitamin C to boost the immune system, vitamin D to control levels of phosphate and calcium in the body, vitamin E to protect against free radicals, potassium to balance fluid levels, and phosphorus to develop bones. The mushrooms also provide B vitamins to support healthy cell and brain functioning, magnesium to regulate nerves, and contain other chemical compounds that provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. When eating new mushrooms, always sample a small amount before entirely consuming to test for allergic reactions or indigestion. If there is any uncertainty as to whether the mushroom is acceptable for eating, consult a doctor or healthcare professional before consumption.
Dried Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are best suited as a flavoring for cooked applications. Unlike other mushrooms that can be reconstituted whole and contain a tender, slightly chewy consistency, Chicken of the Woods mushrooms develop a tough texture when rehydrated. The mushrooms are not favored for use in large pieces, but despite their unpleasant texture, the mushrooms retain a flavorful and rich, earthy, umami flavor. Dried Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are preferably ground into smaller pieces or powder and are incorporated into creamy dishes and sauces as a flavoring or binder. When ground into a fine powder, the mushrooms can be stirred into soups, stews, and curries, or they can be combined into gravies, sauces for roasted meats, casseroles, and risotto. Dried Chicken of the Woods mushroom powder can also be mixed with spices to create a savory meat rub, used with salt as an earthy seasoning, or incorporated as a stock base for ramen, chicken, or cream soups. In addition to using the dried mushrooms as a powder, Chicken of the Woods mushrooms can be broken into smaller pieces, reconstituted, and used as a binding ingredient in meatloaf, meatballs, and stuffing. The pieces add texture and can also be added into pancake batter, bread, and as a panko replacement. Chicken of the Woods mushrooms pair well with hearty ingredients such as rice or potatoes, herbs such as thyme, dried wild bergamot, oregano, and dried sweet-fern leaf, and meats including beef, poultry, pork, and turkey. Dried mushrooms will keep 6 to 12 months when stored in an airtight container away from direct sunlight.
Dried Chicken of the Woods mushrooms have been traditionally incorporated into folk medicines across Europe for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. Historically, the mushrooms were dried, ground into a fine powder, and consumed as tea, or they were dried into larger pieces and steeped in a jar of alcohol for several weeks to a month to create a colored liquid. Steeping the dried fungi in alcohol was known as a decoction, used to extract nutrients, and once soaked, the mushrooms were removed, preserving the medicinal alcohol mixture. Some European herbalists also simmered the soaked mushroom pieces in water to further extract any remaining nutrients and then later mixed the water with the alcohol. Mushroom decoctions had an extended shelf life and were often prescribed to help coughs, fevers, and symptoms associated with joint and muscle pain. Outside of Europe, Dried Chicken of the Woods mushrooms were also occasionally ground, mixed with liquids, and consumed to boost immunity during the cold winter season in Russia.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms have been growing wild since ancient times throughout forests in North America, Europe, and Northern Asia. The mushrooms favor decaying trees, specifically hardwood varieties such as oak, cherry, or beech, but the fungi can also be found on conifers, eucalyptus, willow, sweet chestnut, and cedar. Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are a predictable variety as they return each year to feed off of their host tree until the nutrients are absorbed, allowing foragers to map and harvest the fungus from the same spots annually. Once harvested, the fresh mushrooms can be dried in a dehydrator and sold for extended use. Dried Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are sold through online retailers and are also sometimes found through herbalists, specialty grocers, and farmer’s markets.