Laetiporus sulphureus is a common, brown rot, soft bracket fungus which is mainly found growing on old oak trees. The fruit bodies of this fungus can appear as early as spring, and may reproduce several times until late autumn. This fungus gets its common name Chicken of the Woods from the fact that in the past it has been eaten as a meat substitute by European and Russian country folk. It may also imply that the flesh of this fungus resembles a piece of cooked chicken’s breast after a chunk has been cut through with a knife.
At first the fruit bodies are yellow, rounded and tightly clustered, expanding they then develop into fan shaped brackets sitting one on top of the other. When a fruit body is fully developed, the surface of the cap is divided by sinus or vein-like structures. In colour it ranges from matt, yellow-orange to orange peach. Its pores are minute, yellow and moist. It has a wavy lobed margin and its firm, moist silicone- like content is accompanied by a distinct, fresh fungoid smell. It weighs from a few grams to several kilograms, or enough fungus flesh to fill several large baskets.
The appearance of its fruit bodies on one tree doesn’t necessarily mean that this fungus will appear spontaneously on other trees in that vicinity. In fact there is little homogeneity with regards to this fungus’ appearance, quantity or its size. Furthermore the quantity or size of its fruit bodies probably have little to do with how long its mycelium has lived inside its host.
The general idea that its host has a ready supply of liquid nourishment to feed the fungus’ mycelium with, supposes that its fruit bodies will appear regardless of dry weather conditions. This theory has been proven to be incorrect, together with the idea of watering the host to stimulate new growth. For example, a willow stump which juts out of a lake has produced some excellent yields over the past few seasons, but these fruit bodies have appeared infrequently, not every season, but usually after heavy rainfall.
Following the prolonged summer’s drought of 1995 however, there was a record amount of rain during September. It was during this period that this fungus appeared for the first time that season. Added to this there were some unexpected new hosts, on which there were some very large yields indeed. By comparison its fruit bodies were very rare during 1998, even though there was plenty of rain that year. The fruit bodies of this fungus can be eaten. It is very important that the flesh of this fungus is freshly gathered., and just as importantly is that its flesh should be well cooked.
Chicken of the Woods may cause an allergic reaction in some people, therefore as a precaution, eat only a very small portion, allowing adequate time for its digestion, “one hour,” before completing your delicacy. After eating the flesh of this fungus several time previously with no noticeable side effects, I decided to experiment with a new recipe, Chicken of the Woods fried in batter. The first mistake I made was that I used a shallow frying pan. The final mistake was made when I discovered that the chicken had not been cooked sufficiently, it was too tough and rubbery. It was no more than ten minutes after I had consumed the small piece of chicken, that I began to feel sick. Having to face the inevitable, I drank plenty of water.
Note. I had a similar experience with Hen of the Woods. The raw fruit bodies were firm and juicy and had a strange metallic flavour with a hint of garlic. I ate several of these raw fruit bodies, thinking to myself that this fungus would make an excellent stir fry dish. I strained my tummy muscles, reaching several times, but fortunately I was not sick on this occasion