Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Story of the Chicken of the Wood




I was so happy to find this beautiful 2 kilo bracket of chicken of the wood, or sulphur shelf as it is sometimes known.  My good friend and mushroom expert Mathew Rooney, one half of The Mushroom Table reassuringly confirmed my sighting as the chicken.  Why this giant bracket mushroom is called chicken is only too apparent both in flavour and texture.  As I pondered what to cook, whilst marvelling at my fortuitous find, two dishes quickly sprang to mind. Goulash and a 'chicken' pie.  Rene Redzepi of Noma, eulogised over this mushroom on Dessert Island Disks (8 minutes in), contenting that Chicken of the Wood was more rarefied and revered an ingredient than caviar.  For the two week window in which it makes its appearance is known only to 3 foragers in Denmark. 






Freshly harvested and flash fried strips of chicken




Mushroom Matt at work chopping the chicken flesh


Hen in the wood - the 'dark meat' mushroom equivalent

I invited Matthew to join me for a cook up and to glean any mushroom gems.  I was not disappointed; Chicken of the Wood, he tells me can be sliced and dried out, then burned to repel mosquitos.  


Chicken Pie

Matthew advised one of the main pitfalls of this mushroom is the speed at which it can dry out, leaving the chicken 'chalky'.  It is essential to nourish your dish with copious amounts of fat or oil.  In the case of this dish I sautéd the chicken in buttery olive oil with abandon, which was absorbed astonishingly fast.  The raw chicken has a strong lemon flavour, which begs for the addition of lemon juice and rind to enhance its natural citrusy tones.  Although I didn't have my favourite herb, tarragon in, it became apparent that a lemon & tarragon fricassé would be the way to go with this mushroom.  The Hen of Wood (pictured above) was a foraged addition which Matthew brought.  This mushroom, which looks like the feathers of a chicken has the flavour and texture of the dark meat.
  • 75ml olive oil and 50gm butter
  • 1 onion chopped 
  • 1 fat clove of garlic
  • 1 leek washed and sliced
  • 500g thereabouts of chicken of the wood
  • 200g hen in the wood brushed of any dust and shredded
  • 25g flour
  • a good splash of sherry
  • 100ml chicken stock
  • 1 lemon juiced and grated rind
  • a good bunch of parsley chopped
  • 50ml double cream
  • pastry for the lid
  • beaten egg for the baste
  1. Fry the onion in the olive oil and butter, once soft and transparent, add the garlic. 
  2. When the aroma of garlic is released add the leeks and chicken, stir fry for about 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add the shredded hen meat, stir fry for about 4 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle the flour on and cook for 1 minute.
  5. Add the Sherry or wine and allow to evaporate, followed by the chicken stock and mix well.
  6. Allow to cook for about 15 minutes, then stir in the cream and parsley.
  7. Pile into a pie dish and cover with a sheet of puff pastry, paint the top with egg wash
  8. Bake in oven for about 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden.





Chicken Goulash

The meatiness of mushrooms makes for a hearty goulash and an easy choice.  A rich tomato sauce, laced with piquancy of smokey paprika is a welcome autumn dish.


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  • 75ml olive oil and 50gm butter
  • 1 onion chopped 
  • 1 fat clove of garlic
  • 2 stalks of celery chopped finely
  • 500g thereabouts of chicken of the wood
  • 2 cans of chopped tomato
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée   
  • 1 tablespoon best quality smoked paprika
  • Juice of half a lemon
  1. Fry the onion and celery in the olive oil and butter, once soft and transparent, add the garlic. 
  2. When the aroma of garlic is released add the chicken, stir fry for about 4-5 minutes
  3. Add the paprika and coat the contents of the pan well, allow the aroma to be smelt, then add the chopped tomatoes and tomato purée.
  4. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Add lemon juice & serve.



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