Congratulations, you’ve found what is probably the most popular recipe on this website. This is my original chicken fried chicken of the woods, back from before I even ran my own restaurant. It’s often plagiarized, but never replicated—accept no substitutions. 🙂
We just got a big delivery of chicken of the woods or sulfphur shelf mushrooms in this week, and luckily, I grabbed them all since the daily-changing vegetarian tasting menu is mine to command. I’d been thinking that chicken fried chicken of the woods mushrooms would be great, and, I have to tell you: it’s one of the best things I’ve ever made with them. Ever.
It’s probably nothing new to most people, but your classic chicken fried steak is typically not made with chicken, but beef,–it’s a Southern thing, and some serious stick-to-your-ribs kind of food when served with the requisite red eye gravy, a sort of pan sauce that can include everything from smoked pork to coffee depending on who you ask.
For the tasting menu dish these were originally destined for, I served them with a little pan sauce garnished with some chive flowers, and wilted greens on the side. For the purposes of this post, I think it’s easier to just illustrate a simple method you can use to bread the mushrooms, and let you take the dish from there.
Since chicken of the woods definitely have a texture when cooked similar to chicken, they’re a shoe-in substitute for meat. You can saute them naked in a pan, especially if they’re young, but make sure to keep a bit of wine or stock nearby in case the pan dries out. The genius of chicken frying is that encasing the mushrooms in a little breading lets the mushrooms steam, keeping them moist and juicy while the outside gets crisp and delicious. At it’s heart, this is just a simple recipe for breading chicken of the woods–switch the accompaniments up however you like depending on what’s in season.
Blanching Chicken of the woods to pre cook them
The mushrooms illustrated in this post were from the tender young growth of a white-pored chicken of the woods. Those needed no pre-cooking to be succulent and juicy, but depending on the age (and species) of your chicken mushroom, you may want to blanch them and dry before breading and cooking.
Breading vs Batter vs Flour-egg-crumb
The chicken of the woods here are breaded by dipping into flour-egg-flour here. It might not seem that important, but part of what makes this so addictive is the crust, as well as your mushroom being in a good stage for eating in a thick slice. Using flour, egg and breadcrumbs can make things overly heavy, soggy, and oily. Sometimes it’s nice, and I want that rock hard breadcrumb crust, sometimes I don’t, and here, I don’t. By the same token using batter requires more oil, and can get messy with drips. The big takeaway here, is that the flour-egg-flour breading is a good trick to know, and it will work with more mushrooms than just good old sulphur shelves. Here’s a few examples
- Whole mushroom caps, as with meadow mushrooms or shaggy parasols
- Chunks of hen of the woods
- Ischnoderma resinosum chunks
- Thick slices of puffballs pressed down with your hand to compress them
- Slices of Hericium errinaceous and Americanum
This recipe is fantastic as it is, but once you try it, you might be wondering if you can use it to make other things. You can, and it’s great. Here’s a few that would be good:
Make a quick pan sauce with white wine and chicken stock, finish with parsley and capers.
After breading, put a slice of fresh mozzarella on top, then tomato sauce, then parmesan. Bake at 450-475F or broil just until the cheese is golden and the mushrooms are hot throughout.
Gently toss the breaded mushrooms in Franks Red Hot that you’ve warmed and whisked with a knob of butter in a small saucepan. Eat it on a bed of fresh greens with blue cheese sauce on the side.
Chicken Fried Chicken of the Woods
- Heavy saute of frying pan, like cast iron
- 4 2 oz pieces of young chicken of the woods, the size of a small fist. Just imagine it's chicken
- All purpose flour, as needed for breading, roughly 1 cup
- kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 1 generous pinch sweet paprika
- 1 tiny pinch cayenne pepper
- 3 eggs for breading
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme optional
- Small clove of garlic crushed lightly with the back of a knife optional
- Lemon wedges for serving
- Take your pieces of chicken mushrooms and trim off the tough part where the stem starts to attach to the tree. Wash and dry the mushrooms well, which will help seasonings adhere.
- Season the flour with a good pinch of salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne to taste (go easy on the cayenne). Toss the mushrooms first in flour, then in egg, then in flour again.*
- Heat a pan with 1/4 cup cooking oil, as well as 2 tbsp unsalted butter. Add your breaded chicken mushrooms, the crushed clove of garlic, and the thyme. Cook the chicken of the woods until they are golden brown on each side, about 4-5 minutes, adding extra oil if the pan gets dry, then blot the mushrooms on a paper towel quickly to weep excess oil, sprinkle with a little salt to finish and serve immediately.