Foraging on campus

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgA few weeks ago, a post-doc and I were walking past the Physics building on campus when we saw some beautiful yellow fungi coming out of a tree.

Little did I know that, later that week, I would actually *eat* those fungi. And I haven’t died yet.

Chicken of the forest in situ

My friend and colleague Donna Riley is visiting our department on sabbatical this semester, and turns out to be a marvelous cook, knitter, and, apparently mushroom hunter. She has already come across some chantrelles in the forest, and it was she who noted that the pretty fungi were not only startling to look at, but good to eat.

They’re apparently “chicken of the woods” fungi, also known as “sulfur shelf,” and if you aren’t allergic to them (so far we think we’re not), you can eat them.

So we launched forth ~ 5 pm and drew some curious stares from folks standing at the bus stop while we reached off and broke off a large chunk.

Donna came back to our house with us, and whipped up a vegetarian pasta with “chicken of the woods” chunks.

Verdict: they were a little dry and crumbly, but did indeed taste like chicken. And came with the added bonus of having involved foraging mushrooms on campus. However, we probably didn’t need the size of chunk we broke off — I think it was fun to try some of, but now we’re not sure what to do with the rest of it. Make broth? I’m a little afraid of that prospect.

There’s more still on that tree by physics… anyone have any good recipes out there? Figured out how to deal with the dry/crumbly texture?

In general, the whole experience was very cool. Except that people who thought we ate weird food before are sure to be more steadfast in their convictions from now on.

Chicken of the forest pasta


  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    September 25, 2009

    Oh, I haven’t had a sulfur shelf in ages. Yum. I can’t help with recipes, though. I’m perfectly content to nibble on them raw for the sweet/tart flavor.

  2. #2 uqbar
    September 25, 2009

    Very interesting. A speculation: Perhaps the “younger” parts of the fungus are less dry/crumbly. My limited observations of other shelf fungus is that they get harder and more leathery the older they get.

    I might try this – how likely am I to pick a “bad” shelf fungus and die? Of course I’ll do some research through the literature first . . .

  3. #3 Ivory
    September 25, 2009

    Reminds me of an old saying – there are bold mushroom hunters and old mushroom hunters but there are no old bold mushroom hunters.

    Looks like you enjoyed your dish.

  4. #4 Karina
    September 25, 2009

    My coworker once brought me a huge ziplock full of chicken mushroom! I’m vegetarian so my first reply was, “It’s still chicken even if you cooked it in mushroom.” It really does look and taste like chicken. I should’ve tried frying it. In spite of being vegetarian for several years, fried chicken still makes my mouth water. I could really go for some fried chicken mushroom.

  5. #5 unbalanced reaction
    September 26, 2009

    I always assumed that was poisonous! Hmm… maybe I’ll be adventurous this week and seek some out.

  6. #6 R
    September 27, 2009

    I concur with uqbar — the smaller shelves of the fungus are probably less dried out. I went on many mushroom forays as a kid, with my plant pathologist father, and when I saw your picture I thought to myself that it had to be the “chicken dinner fungus” (as he called it).

    Also, a useless piece of trivia (unless you’re in the right place): pharmacists in France are trained to recognize whether mushrooms are edible or poisonous, and people can take their collected mushrooms to the pharmacy to get them examined before eating.

  7. #7 Lab Lemming
    September 27, 2009

    Don’t keep the leftover bits- give them back to the department. Such a cheap and plentiful source of protein is invaluable to your grad students. After all, if it makes good pasta, it should be fine with Ramen…

  8. #8 Candid Engineer
    September 27, 2009

    Ha! As soon as I saw picture, I wondered if it was ‘chicken of the woods’!! When I was a grad student, one of my roommates came home one day with a chicken-of-the-woods specimen that he’d collected outside of the chemistry building on campus. He cooked that junk up and put A1 sauce on it. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I tried it (seems stupid to sample random fungi), but it just tasted like A1 sauce to me.

  9. #9 volcanogirl
    September 27, 2009

    I just picked some sulphur shelf today! They keep well in the freezer if you feel guilty about throwing them away. Also, I have read that the tips are more tender than the inner parts of the shelf. To get rid of the crumbly texture, try sauteing in sherry or white wine, or put them in a cream of mushroom soup, or put them in a sweet potato stew, or sautee with butter and shallots and put them in a quiche. There are so many possibilities! Enjoy :).

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