Chicken of the Woods!

This just in from my pal Darcie, who’s become a fountain of vegetarian creativity for us!

OK Eben, I purchased “chicken of the woods” yesterday, a wild looking mushroom . . . now to figure out how to cook with it!!

GREAT catch, Darce! CofW is a wonderful, funky mushroom that I recall with great fondness from days in the northwest. They are truly delicious, with complex, deep flavors. Some think they taste, well, like chicken, (I know, right?), while others lean more toward a lobster/crab kinda vibe. In any case, they’re a great meat substitute that puts tofu to shame.

First caveat: As with any wild mushroom, be sure what you’ve found or bought before you try it! Check a reliable, reputable site for facts before you eat! I like The Mushroom Expert a lot, and that’s where I went to dig up more scoop on these guys.

Second Caveat: Some people don’t do so well with CotW, so it’s best to try a little bit and make sure before you wade into a whole raft of them. Typical reaction symptoms are stomach upset, itchy throat, or swollen lips. Anaphylaxis is not fun, so be prudent!

Third caveat: Some varieties of CotW grow on conifers, cedars, and eucalyptus trees; you shouldn’t eat these guys, as they can contain some nasty toxins specific to those trees that don’t mix well with humans.

That’s a lot to know, but it’s all important. Bottom line is, if you’re buying and your seller can’t answer those questions readily and with clear eyes, don’t buy from them… OK, all that said, whataya do with them once you got ‘em? Here’s a basic recipe that rocks, but first, a couple of notes.

Make sure you’re gtting young, fresh stuff – When these get old, they pretty much resemble plywood in taste…

To clean CofW, wipe them gently with a clean, damp cloth. They are sponges and will absorb a lot of water if you douse ‘em. For the same reason, if you sauté in oil, do so sparingly.

My favorite way to cook these is simple and straightforward, letting the flavor and texture of the ‘shrooms stand out.

Sauted Chicken of the Woods

2 – 3 cups CotW
3 – 5 whole tomatoes
½ cup Vegetable Stock
2 – 3 cloves Garlic
¼ teaspoon fresh Thyme
1 teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Clean CotW and cut into slightly large bite sized pieces. Mince garlic, and fine chop thyme.

Heat water in a large pan to a low rolling boil. Fill a non-reactive bowl with ice water. Blanch tomatoes into boiling water for about 30 seconds and then dunk them into the ice water. Peel and core after they’re thoroughly cooled. Toss tomatoes into a blender and zap ‘em until they’re uniformly sauced. Pour your sauce through a wide mesh strainer to remove seeds, etc. Set aside.

Heat oil in sauté pan over medium heat. Mince garlic and quickly sauté, taking care not to burn it!

Add CofW and sauté for about 10 minutes. As they cook, they turn bright orange-yellow, which is very cool!

Add vegetable stock and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Add tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper. Simmer over medium low heat, taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Serve hot and go wild. I love these with some crusty bread to sop up all the juice with a nice glass of tangy, white wine to refresh the flavors with. Also goes great tossed with a pasta of your choice, or over wild rice.

Enjoy!

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