by David Babik
The summer of 2022 will go down in history as one of the worst mushrooms seasons of all time in the Northeast. Relentless drought and scorching temperatures left Massachusetts a barren landscape. It was the first time in recent memory that the BMC cancelled walks due to lack of fungi.
As August drew to a close, we were finally rewarded with at least some rain. People took to the woods in search of anything. (even a red Russula!) What they found were chickens, lots of chickens. Both Laetiporus sulphureus and Laetiporus Cincinnatus exploded all over the state. My cell phone and email were both suddenly filled with photos of Chickens of the woods.
Many BMC members consider chickens to be a choice edible mushroom. Many others are only lukewarm about them. There are several factors to explain this dichotomy. First, all sources agree that the quality of this fungi tends to vary with location. The same species may vary in flavor and texture from one collection to the next. Freshness is also a BIG factor. I personally only will harvest specimens that are so fresh that moisture leaks out when cut. Laetiporus tends to get fibrous and chalky tasting as the fungi ages. Collections past their peak of freshness quickly lose flavor and become harder to digest. I would advise passing on older specimens but take note of the location and date. These mushrooms tend to reappear the same location each year.
Another consideration is how the chickens are processed and cooked. Hard areas should always be cut away, retaining only softer outer areas. They don’t lend themselves to being cooked until crispy. They come out much better sauteed in a covered pan on lower heat to keep in moisture. I often add a little white wine or chicken broth to help them stay soft as they cook. They also benefit from a little added thyme and butter. They work well in stir fried dishes and a chicken fajita dish was a big hit at a BMC potluck dinner a few years ago.
The late season Chicken explosion reminded us that, even in the driest of years, what an impact a little rain can have.