Chicken of the Woods is a remarkable mushroom that grows on trees in a shelf-like arrangement, presenting bright yellows and oranges in its color. It is one of the most vibrant and easy to identify of the edible mushrooms out there, and it has other interesting properties that we will get into shortly, but the question that brought you here is, can you dry this fungus out to allow for more extended storage, or are you doomed to forever foraging for fresh batches whenever your stash runs out?
You certainly can dry out Chick of the Woods mushroom, and in doing so, you will be able to keep your batch for as much as twelve months if stored right. It is worth noting, however, that some of the mushroom’s succulence and texture is unavoidably lost in the process of drying, so eating fresh is always preferable.
If you are harvesting your own mushrooms and you can feasibly stick to only harvesting when you need more, you should always strive to do that. Not only will fresh mushrooms be a more enjoyable experience for you, but it will also mean there is more mushroom to go around. If you go out into the woods and grab all the mushroom, that means anyone else heading out for that reason after you will miss out because you have already snapped it all up. This is a particularly egregious act of greed if you then don’t even use all of that mushroom.
It also helps to be mindful of how you harvest your mushrooms. With Chicken of the Woods, simply ripping them off the tree will prevent more from growing back in that spot. If you carefully cut them away just above the base, they will likely grow back during the next season.
This type of mushroom is in season for roughly half the year, which gives you six months where you can get fresh batches. Using some of the methods we are going to look into below, you can keep your Chicken of the Woods stored away for as much as twelve months, so between that six-month harvesting window and the twelve months potential storage time; you should be able to enjoy this mushroom all year round.
What is the Best Way to Dry Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms?
One of the more popular ways of preserving mushrooms is to dry them out. This can be useful if you are going to create a powder for use in something like a tea or soup, but it can also be handy for reconstituting at a later date. Dehydrating food is a long-practiced way of keeping it viable for long periods, with little more than adding water being required to bring your food back to life—figuratively speaking—and ready for consumption.
If it’s good enough for astronauts, it should be good enough for us and our mushrooms, right?
In truth, there is a bit of a trade-off to contend with. You can undoubtedly make your Chicken of the Woods mushroom viable for longer by drying it, but it will never be as succulent and tasty as it was when it was fresh. Perhaps science will one day figure this one out, but it’s not there yet.
If you still want to dry out your Chicken of the Woods, the best method for achieving that is through the use of a dehydrator. You could also dehydrate your mushrooms with an oven, leaving it on the lowest heat with the door slightly ajar for around twenty-four hours, although this is an incredibly inefficient way of dehydrating mushrooms and might not sit well with you when the utility bills for that month arrive.
If you are going to be doing this on a regular basis, food dehydrators can be had for as little as forty dollars and are well worth the investment.
Can You Refrigerate Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms Before Drying?
Chicken of the Woods mushroom can indeed be refrigerated, though there are reasons you may want to avoid this particular way of preserving your mushrooms. They can also be frozen if you are looking to store them for longer.
As a general rule, you should only be looking to harvest as much Chicken in the Woods as you are likely to consume within seven days, and if you are sticking to that guideline, you can usually make do by simply popping your mushroom into a paper bag—the paper part is important—and dropping it into the bottom drawer of your fridge, where it should be slightly warmer due to heat rising. If you are looking to keep your Chicken of the Woods mushroom on ice for a little longer than the recommended few days to a week, you will need to get a little more involved.
The act of freezing Chicken of the Woods mushroom tends to have a noticeable effect on the texture. It may be worth trying straightforward freezing of the mushroom to see if this change in texture is something that will bother you. If it is, there are steps you can take to mitigate the effects of freezing.
Firstly, saute the mushroom in butter, adding in a little herb of preference and a sprinkling of salt. Drop them into a plastic bag or container along with a generous helping of butter or fat. Seal up the bag or lid, pop it into your freezer, and you should be good to go.
How Long Can You Keep Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms When Dry?
Again, we’d like to stress that the best approach—wherever possible—is only to harvest or purchase mushrooms that you are likely to consume within the following seven days. This does not just guarantee you the best possible flavor and texture from your mushrooms, but it also ensures a more sustainable foraging session. If you got out and harvest two hundred pounds-worth of mushrooms and most of it ends up not getting used, that wasted mushroom cannot then be foraged by anyone else who might have been looking for a batch.
That being said, we understand that you can’t always plan your consumption to perfection, and we are not all in a position to go out and harvest mushrooms whenever we need a fresh batch. If you need to dry out your Chicken of the Woods mushrooms, you can expect to be able to keep them for as much as twelve months. You will need to store your dried mushrooms in a cool, dry place, however. Allowing them to rehydrate at all through the act of leaving them somewhere that is humid or damp will only cause them to degrade faster, giving you considerably less storage time.
Will I Lose Nutrients by Drying Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms?
Drying out mushrooms of any kind does not typically cause a significant loss of nutrients, though it should be noted that some nutritional value will be lost over time regardless of what method of preservation you might choose. This is an unavoidable reality of living things—in this case, the mushrooms—ceasing to be living things.
From a relative perspective, however, the mushrooms may seem to gain nutritional value, but this is merely a trick of perception. Mushrooms have a very high water content, so removing that water content causes the nutrients inside to become highly concentrated. It is not that there are suddenly more nutrients; it is just that those nutrients have been packed into a much smaller space due to the absence of water.
The main thing you have to worry about from drying out your mushrooms is losing the texture of the fungi. Mushrooms—Chicken of the Woods in particular—are often desirable for their succulent, meaty texture. While you can get some of that texture back by rehydrating your mushrooms, you will never really be able to get it back to how it was before you dried it out. Of course, that doesn’t mean drying is a bad option, but it is certainly better to eat fresh wherever possible.
Will the Medicinal Quality of Chicken of the Woods Mushroom Diminish Over Time?
Like many mushrooms, Chicken of the Woods is considered a medicinal mushroom for a range of reasons, mostly centered around some of the more beneficial ingredients that you will find inside this remarkable fungi. The medicinal properties of these mushrooms include the following.
Studies have shown that the Acetyl Eburicoic Acid in the mushroom can suppress inflammatory diseases, which can, in turn, help manage the pain caused by those inflammations.
High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are known to help your body fight off free radicals, which are responsible for a lot of cellular damage in your body. There are also some who believe that it can help with combating cancerous cells and preventing neurological diseases. The antioxidants found in these mushrooms include;
- Chlorogenic Acid
- Caffeic Acid
Chicken of the Woods is a mushroom with a strong antibacterial component and, somewhat surprisingly, a strong anti-fungal one, too. These properties can help you fight infections of a variety of flavors, as well as giving your immune system a little boost.
What is the Best Way to Rehydrate Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms?
As we mentioned above, rehydrated Chicken of the Woods will never be quite as good as the real deal, so it is better to reserve this method for situations that suit it. For example, drying out the mushroom and then grinding it into a powder to use in soup or a stew is an excellent use of dried Chicken of the Woods. You could also drop the dried chunks of mushroom directly into a stew, allowing them to reconstitute in the stew itself. The fact that they may have lost some of their succulence should be less of a problem when it is part of an ensemble cast, as it would be in a good stew.
If you have your heart set on rehydrating your mushrooms to use as big, juicy mushroom chunks, you can reconstitute them by simply soaking them in water for between fifteen and sixty minutes. Once your mushrooms are nice and plump, you can strain the water out, and you are good to go.
It is important to note that the way in which you store your dried mushrooms will have a significant effect on your success at rehydrating them. Your best bet would be to store them in a sealed mason jar or a zip lock bag. Be sure to keep them in a cool, dry place.
How Can I Soften Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms When Cooking?
Chicken of the Woods is not the softest mushroom in the fungi kingdom, and, depending on what recipe you are dropping them into, you may find yourself needing a somewhat more tender morsel than your fresh supply grants you.
One of the easiest ways to soften up your Chicken of the Woods is a nice slow boil. You can continually add more water if the first boil does not produce the kind of tenderness you are looking for, and repeat the process until you are happy. This does not need to be a separate process, of course. If you are cooking something in a pan or skillet, you can work this tenderizing process into the recipe.
Another method that can soften up your mushrooms is sauteing them with a little oil, though this doesn’t seem to be as effective as the boiling method.
When it comes to Chicken of the Woods mushroom, the question is not so much can you dry it, but should you. It is certainly possible to dry the fungi, and it is a very effective way of preserving your mushroom haul until you are ready to make a tasty meal out of it. That being said, it could easily be argued that freezing is a better option than drying. And, if long-term storage is not critical, refrigerating for a shorter time is even better.
Of course, the best possible option is eating your mushrooms fresh because they will never be as juicy and succulent as they are the same day you harvest them.