In the world of wild mushrooms, chicken of the woods / sulphur shelf mushrooms are pretty special-as long as they've been harvested when young and tender. Mixing them into a simple pasta with lemon cream is one of my favorite things to do with them, and an annual tradition for a couple serious mushroom hunter friends of mine.
I’ve cut large, young chickens off a tree and had them gush orange juice down my arms as I cut--not the average experience of harvesting a mushroom. The juice the give off smells mushroomy, but it has another note to it too, a sort of strong citrus scent that I’ve described as orange or citrus peel before. That aroma isn't just a weird anomaly though, young mushrooms will keep the high citrus notes and a sort of "twang", along with the mushroom flavor.
From there, it's only a hop, skip, and a jump to pairing them with some citrus. A method where mushrooms are finished with a dash of lemon juice like in classic French champignons Bordelaise is good, but even better is a recipe where the mushroom flavor's transferred to another medium to mix with the juice. Enter cream.
A know a couple old, bold mushroom hunters who swear by chicken of the woods with lemon cream sauce (see Michael Kuo's 100 edible mushrooms) and, yes, it is really, really good. But, most importantly, it just wouldn't be the same if you made it with a similar mushroom like hen of the woods or Ischnoderma resinosum.
A lot of times mushrooms are interchangeable in recipes, but for this, chicken of the woods shines front and center. Try it the next time you have a nice haul of young ones.
This is a super simple wild mushroom recipe you can adapt to what you have on hand. If you don't feel like making gnocchi from scratch, it's fine to use your favorite pasta. Fettucine, penne, and angel hair would all work just fine. Changing things up and using the same ingredients/flavors in risotto would also be good.
Gnocchi with Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms and Lemon Cream
- Potato ricer, gnocchi board
- 1 lb gnocchi cooked (see note)
- Kosher salt to taste
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 6 oz fresh tender chicken of the woods mushrooms, sliced into ¼ inch pieces
- A few scrapes fresh lemon zest
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Fresh lemon juice to taste, about 2 teaspoons
- Fresh grated parmesan to taste
- 2 tablespoons sliced wild garlic shallots, green garlic, or garlic scapes
- Chive flowers to garnish (optional)
- Wood sorrel leaves to garnish (optional)
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- Sweat the chicken of the woods in half the butter, then add the wild garlic or other allium and cook for about 30 seconds, just until they turn bright green.
- Add the wine and cook for a minute, then add the cream and gnocchi, bring to a simmer, and cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Meanwhile, season the sauce to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon zest.
- Finally, finish the sauce with the lemon juice to taste, and swirl in the butter.
- Finally a small amount of parmesan off the heat, tossing to mix, then divide between preheated serving bowls, garnishing with the chive flowers and sorrel, if using.
Par-cooking gnocchi is my preferred way of making them, just cook in rapidly boiling water, drain and toss with a bit of oil up to an hour or two before serving.
Basic Potato Gnocchi
- 1 lb russet potatoes
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg yolk
- Kosher salt and pepper
- Wrap the potatoes in foil and bake at 350 until they can be easily pierced with a knife, about 30-45 minutes depending on size. Remove the potatoes from the oven and cool completely.
- The potatoes can be riced the next day after chilling in the fridge as well. Skin the potatoes with a paring knife, Then cut into pieces and press through a ricer.
- If you have a circular rotating ricer, work in small batches to avoid making the potatoes gummy. Put the riced potatoes on a bowl, add the salt, numeg, and egg yolk and mix until combined, then add the flour and mix (don’t knead) until an even dough is formed.
- Transfer the dough to a cutting board, cover with a towel and allow to rest for 5 minutes before rolling out. Roll the dough into logs about 1 inch in diameter, then cut using a bench knife and roll off a fork or gnocchi board if desired.
- As you cut the gnocchi, toss them lightly in flour and either boil fresh, toss with oil and reserve for dinner, or freeze, lightly floured on cookie sheets, transferring to freezer or vacuum bags for cooking straight from the freezer.