October is the month for
In the mushroom world that means hunting for
Chicken of the Woods (aka - sulphur shelf)
Laetiporus sulphureus and Laetiporus cinncinnatus
by Phil Tedeschi
Sulphur shelves are easy mushrooms to learn to recognize that have no really close look-alikes. There are two versions of sulphur shelves now considered separate species. The typical sulphur shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus) is a bracket fungi like many other polypores with a bright orange upper surface, a bright yellow undersurface with the yellow forming a bright yellow rim at the edge of the mushroom. There is a variant form (Laetiporus sulphureus var. semialbinus) that grows as a bracket fungi and that has the same upper surface color but has a white undersurface (pores). The other species, Laetiporus cinncinnatus, grows in a roseate form arising from the ground near a tree with a white undersurface. The shelves or the leaves of the roseate form are fan to kidney shaped and are two to ten inches wide. The edge of the caps are wrinkled or folded. The undersurface is comprised of pores which on young specimens can only be seen with a magnifying glass. This is a mushroom that can be seen and identified from large distances.
The ease of identification prompted L.C. Pearson to include the sulphur shelf as one of the “foolproof four” in his book: The Mushroom Manual. Sulphur shelves, however, have been known to cause gastric upset and/or allergic reactions in some people so the mushroom does not really belong in a “foolproof four” list. Take care when you try this mushroom for the first time and only sample a small amount (a couple of ounces). The allergic reaction and the gastric upset are very rare but caveat emptor. Our own Sandy Sheine suffers from the allergic reaction while it is her husband Jerry’s favorite mushroom. Most of the reports of gastric upset come from sulphur shelves growing on Eucalyptus trees in California.
Sulphur shelves can often be found growing in large clusters on trees so many pounds can often be picked. The trunk (~6 to 7 foot tall) filled with sulphur shelves from the Waterloo Recreation Area has about 50 lbs of sulphur shelf growing on it. This tree broke about two years ago and prior to that the sulphur shelves would grow in profusion to a height of about 25 feet with several hundred pounds fruiting at a time. I will be very sorry when the sulphur shelves have finished growing on the trunk.
Sulphur shelves are excellent edibles, extremely succulent. They also are quite nutritious with a high protein content. The mushroom has a fibrous structure similar to chicken breast with a taste very much like chicken breast. I use sulphur shelves as a substitute for chicken in many recipes especially when I entertain vegetarians. When young the entire mushroom is edible but as it ages only the outer rim can be eaten. As the mushroom ages the flesh changes from a very wet freshness (often exuding drops of liquid) to dry and chalky as it ages. While the sulphur shelf is versatile in many recipes I have found that very slow long cooking can change this succulent mushroom to something that has the flavor and consistency of cardboard.