Once the mushrooms start to come up in the summer, chickens are some of the first you’ll see. After going out and hunting over the course of the season though, they can almost get a little annoying. You pray for a nice patch of chanterelles or hedgehogs, but all you keep finding is chickens, and more chickens.
It’s not really the chicken of the wood’s fault though, I mean c’mon, they’re bright orange and stick out like a sore thumb. I do my fair share of grumbling when I come across flushes of them that are past their prime, again and again, but once in a great while you can find some that are really good. It’s all about timing. When you get that good chicken, that really perfect one, unless you want to eat it every meal for a week, it’s a good idea to make some pickles, which I’ll get to, but first, lets talk about the perfect stage for eating.
Chicken of the woods mushrooms grow pretty fast, and as they grow they get tough and leathery. Once in a while though, if you have a good eye, you might be able to spot some that are really young and just starting to pop out of the wood. You might be tempted to let the chickens grow so that you can come back for a larger shroom later, but more often not, especially with chickens, they will be riddled with bugs before you know it, so my advice, is to take them while they’re young and tender.
Seriously, I beat this drum every year, but I just can’t stress enough how important it is to get the youngest chicken of the woods that you can find. Older chickens just aren’t the same, not in the slightest. Think of it like a garden vegetable that’s too old: like woody fennel or lettuce that’s gone to seed: everything has a perfect stage for harvesting, and with chickens, it’s young, young, young. Some people may say older chickens with pronounced shelf forms are edible, and they can be, depending, but more often than not, mature chickens, besides being riddled with worms, will be plenty chewy, a week later they’ll be inedible shoe leather, and a week after that, like chewing bark.
Next time you stumble upon some really young ones, try putting some up in pickles (the one pictured above fed sixteen people and made 1 qt of pickles.
The next thing to know is how I use these. Contrary to a lot of pickles, when I use these, they generally aren’t being eaten out of a jar, they’re getting warmed up gently, and spoon on top of something, maybe with a little butter and some of their liquid to make a light sauce, with a little chopped parsley or some fresh herbs.
The big reason to pickle wild mushrooms, especially the beautiful white pored chicken that was my model for this, is that pickling mushrooms is basically the best way to keep the texture as close to if they were fresh as possible. You’ll also notice I don’t put sugar in my mushroom pickles. Putting sugar in mushroom pickles is a pet peeve of mine, just because its a pickle doesn’t mean it has to have sugar, or assassinate the mushroom with vinegar, which most recipes do.
Give it a try the next time you find a nice one.
Pickled Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms
- 1 lb very young chicken of the woods
- 3 cups water
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme
- Two dried bay leaves
- 1 cup of champagne or white wine vinegar
- In a small stock pot, bring the water, salt, garlic and herbs to a simmer.
- Add the chicken of the woods and cook until they have released their juice and cooked through, about 5 minutes.
- Add the vinegar to the mixture, then pack pint canning jars full of the pickles. Pour the pickle liquid over the mushrooms and fill the jars leaving 1/2 an inch of headspace, then process the jars in a waterbath canner for 15 minutes.