Wild Forage: Chicken of the Woods

Wild foraged foods are just my favorite; they are packed with nutrients, super fresh, picked at prime and of course free. Wild foods are usually more nutrient dense, since they grow under optimum conditions. They have not been bred for centuries to have other attributes, like higher sugar content, longer shelf life etc.

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You can imagine my delight when I spotted a very large bright orange mushroom, while walking our dog, from the road. I took some photos and a small sample and went home to properly identify it. It turned out to be what is commonly know as Chicken of the Woods, or  Laetiporus cincinnatus by it’s Latin name. Not just edible, but described as choice. I went back and picked three clusters, the largest weighed almost seven pounds. I shared it with several friends and a lot of mushroom cooking ensued in my kitchen.

It is named Chicken of the Woods, because of it’s texture and mild flavor. It does not taste like chicken, but can very easily be substituted for chicken in lots of recipes. Since it is so mild, one has to be careful not to overpower it with other flavors. It should not be eaten raw.

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The underside has very fine white/yellow pores and since it grew from the base of the tree it engulfed sticks and leaves around it. The older the mushroom gets the tougher it can be. This one was was quite fresh and all the parts were very tender.

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You can tear the mushroom apart just like you would chicken. If the thicker parts are a little tough you can cut them into cubes and cook them longer in stews or soups. In general this is a very dense mushroom, it does not loose much volume when it is cooked.

I sauteed some for a stir fry in ghee, very yummy. I also used some for a curry in place of meat.

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Since I had so much. I also put quite a bit in the freezer. The best way is to cook the mushroom first and then freeze it.

After all this, I was inspired to create my own recipe. I kept thinking that it reminded me a little bit of crab meat. So I decided to create a “Mock Crab Cake” with the Laetipurus as my crab. Since the mushroom flavor is so mild, I wanted to add a fishy umami flavor . I love creating new spice mixes and recipes. I am not expecting you to have all these things at home and to follow suit, this is more of an armchair cooking post.

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Umami, or savory is a taste associated often with fermented vegetables, meat, fish and dairy. Think of a ripe brie or Worcestershire Sauce. Our desire to enhance those flavors brought on the artificial MSG, which replicates the natural amino acids that break down in foods during cooking or fermentation.

For these crab cakes I chose: black pepper, bay leaf, tiny dried shrimp, saffron, katsuobushi (dried tuna flakes), sun dried tomatoes, dulse seaweed, smoked paprika and celery seed. I wanted to bring the fishy flavors and also a little of Old Bay seasoning into the mix. Since these flavors are complimentary I did not measure anything. Next I ground all this in the coffee grinder and gave it a taste test; yummy.

Mock Crab Cake

In the past people have invented “mock” or “faux” recipes for keeping up with high society, when they couldn’t afford the ingredients, like Mock Turtle Soup. In more recent times these terms are more common when vegetarian dishes mock a certain meat.

this recipe is for 1 mock crab cake

equipment: grater, wax paper, small ring mold, frying pan

1 cup flaked Laetiporus

1 egg beaten

1 heaping tbsp mayonnaise

1 tsp rice syrup, crab meat is always a little sweet, you can use sugar too, just a little less

1 tbsp grated shallot; if you substitute onion, run some water over it, to take the edge off

2 tbsp umami seasoning; you could substitute 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce & tomato paste

2 tbsp bread crumbs on a piece of wax paper

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Tear the mushroom to resemble crab meat, you need about a cup. Mix egg, mayonnaise, syrup, shallot and seasoning. Taste it, see if it needs anything, like salt. (don’t taste it raw if you don’t know where your eggs come from) Add the mushrooms to it.

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Grate some stale bread onto a piece of wax paper, set a ring mold (this is just the top ring off a plastic drink cup) on top of the breadcrumbs and fill it with the mushroom mix. Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs on top. Lift it with the wax paper onto a plate and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

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Heat a pan to medium with some butter, or what ever oil you like and gently fry the patty on both sides. Serve with lettuce. Make sure the patty is not so thick that the middle stays raw. You can shape the patty by hand too. The time in the refrigerator helps with moisture distribution and firming up the patty, you can leave it in the fridge longer.

The outside was nice and crunchy, the inside soft, with a nice texture to it. The taste was reminiscent of crab, but of course not identical. I will definitively make these again, even oyster mushrooms should work great with this recipe.

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I am not an expert on mushrooms and I urge you to be very careful picking wild mushrooms. I usually stick to the species that don’t have poisonous lookalikes. Please don’t use this blog post for identification.

 

 

 

 

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