If you find the prospect of mushroom foraging daunting, Laetiporus sulphureus might be a good place to start. Considered by some experts to be one of the “foolproof four,” this fungus’s bright-orange, multi-layered appearance makes it easy to identify. Even better: Inside its velvety tiers is a meaty flesh that tastes like chicken.
Nicknamed “the chicken of the woods,” the mushroom is a favorite among vegetarians. Since it cannot be consumed raw, chefs find many creative ways to incorporate the mushroom’s fruiting body into dishes. They sautee pieces to make omelets and stir-fries, mix them into creamy pasta sauces, or bread and fry them into nuggets.
Although the mushroom’s unmistakable appearance is perfect for amateur foragers, new discoveries suggest that harvesters in North America should proceed with caution. Mycologists recently found that the “species” actually consists of several different but similar-looking varieties of mushrooms. Even though they look like the chicken of the woods, foragers who feast on these fungi—namely Laetiporus gilbertsonii and Laetiporus conifericola in the West and Laetiporus huroniensis around the Great Lakes—often experience gastrointestinal problems.
So how do you know if you’re eating the right poultry-flavored polypore? It’s still pretty simple: Laetiporus sulphureus grows on mature or dead hardwoods in Eastern North America and Europe. If you see a similar-looking ’shroom growing in Western forests or on the sides of conifer or eucalyptus trees, leave it be.
Since Laetiporus sulphureus is very sensitive to surrounding environments, there is limited commercial production. Your best bet is to go out into the forest and start foraging.
Need to Know
Laetiporus sulphureus typically grows in the summer and fall. Look for bright, striking colors, which signify a delicious young mushroom (older versions will be dull yellow or white). The texture should be firm yet tender. If it crumbles when you touch it, it’s too old to eat.