Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Chicken of the Woods: Tree to Table
By Natalie

Laetiporus sulphureus), also known as Sulphur Shelf, is an easily recognized polypore (it's actually one of the "foolproof four," along with the Morel, Giant Puffball, and Shaggy Mane). Its bright yellow and orange hues stand out from the dark backdrop of the tree it's inhabiting. Year after year, and often several times in a season, the Chicken returns to the same spot (here on the farm, that's usually in late June and again in August). Last year we blogged about its biology, harvesting and preparation. To read last year's blog, click here: Tree Poultry.

Chicken at the base of a tree, indicating root rot.

This year we are trialing cultivation of Chicken of the Woods outdoors,
using the same method we use for outdoor cultivation of the OTHER tree poultry, Hen of the WoodsThe pure culture spawn was added to a sterilized oak log, allowed to incubate a few months, then taken out of the bag and shallowly buried in a shady spot outdoors this summer. We do not expect any fruiting this year, but arstill watching it closely.

Orange colored L. sulphureous colonized this sterilized oak log quickly.

But enough about biology, identification, foraging and cultivation: I want to talk about something almost as exciting as finding some Chicken: discovering new ways to prepare it! 

Last year I experimented with strips of the Chicken mixed with what seemed to be excessive amounts of a balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a season concoction, sealed tightly in foil and cooked on a hot grill. Why so much liquid you may ask? I had read that the Chicken gets quite thirsty while cooking. Who doesn't? :-)

The end result was delicious. After about 20-30 minutes on the grill and flipping the foil bag often, the Chicken had soaked up all of the liquid and was moist and tasty. I was ready to experiment more, but the Chicken found on the farm was done fruiting for the year. 

So this year, I've been waiting, and this week, the Chicken made its debut again (in the wild) here on the farm. Perfect time to try a new recipe and share it with the F&FP Team. I figured if it didn't turn out well, we just wouldn't talk about it. Anywhere. And if it did, then we'd share it. Since you're reading this now, you have probably already guessed that it was a hit. Even with all thcooking, the mushrooms remained firm and toothsome. Here's the recipe, hope you enjoy it: 

Iconic "tree poultry" - Hen of the Woods (back) and Chicken of the Woods (front).

Chicken of the Woods Risotto


1 lb. risotto rice
1 lb. Chicken of the Woods cut into 1/2 inch slices (use only the outer 3-4 inches of the specimen where it is still tender)
1 medium/large sweet onion, diced
1/2 bottle (375 mL) of dry white wine at room temp (chardonnay works well)
1 large can (49.5 oz.) chicken or vegetable broth (or homemade broth, if preferred) - heated
1 stick butter
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt (to taste)
fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese for serving (optional)

Chicken of the Woods strips sauteing in butter with diced sweet onion

Clean mushrooms by brushing off any debris or rinsing them lightly if necessary. Saute onion in butter (or a mixture of olive oil and butter if you prefer) over medium heat, until the onions turn translucent and start to break down. Mix the mushroom strips into the onions. Cover and let simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
The risotto is added to the mushroom and onion mixture
Now it's time to add the rice to the mixture. Mix it in well so all rice is coated with butter/oil and stir often - do not let rice brown! When rice turns translucent at its edges (but still opaque in centers) after a few minutes, stir in about a third of the wine to deglaze pan. Turn heat up to medium/medium high, and simmer until wine is completely absorbed. It can't be stressed enough that you must constantly watch and stir risotto frequently, as the rice and mushrooms will absorb liquid very quickly. Repeat two more times, until all remaining wine is absorbed. 
Risotto simmering after each addition of broth
Now you will add in a ladle or two of heated broth at a time, simmering until it is absorbed. You want to add just enough liquid to keep rice cooking. Continue to repeat this process. Around 12 minutes in, start tasting the rice to see how far along it is, and to determine how much seasoning is needed. Risotto is ready when the rice is al dente, translated "to the tooth," meaning it is tender with a small bit of firmness in the center. As far as seasoning is concerned, I used just a bit of sea salt, as the stock adds quite a bit of flavor itself. The risotto should appear thickened and creamy. It typically takes the rice about 20 minutes or less to reach this stage
The risotto is done - dig in!
Serve immediately. Some people recommend adding in a pat of butter or a dash of warmed cream to the risotto right before serving . It is often served with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese as a topping. I served it without any additions so that we could better taste the mushrooms in this dish. And if you didn't enjoy the other half of the bottle of wine while preparing this dish, share it at the table!

Serving suggesting: Cold, thickly sliced heirloom tomatoes drizzled with
olive oil and seasoned with fresh basil, cracked pepper and seas salt!

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