In size, they can from 2 to 10 inches wide (5 to 25 cm), and can weigh up to 50 pounds (23 kg.) They die back in winter, but will grow back year after year in the same spot. They usually grow in clusters, taking about 6 to 12 months to form. They have pores instead of gills to produce their spores in.
They grow in two colours, yellow and salmon. The yellow-coloured ones are more fleshy and the salmon-coloured ones are flatter. As they age, both colours will turn whitish (don’t eat older ones: see Nutrition below.)
When collecting them, mushroom hunters cut off and gather only the outer 1 inch (2.5cm) edge, which being the youngest part will be the best tasting, because the closer you get to the tree the woodier the taste gets. Younger parts are also a bit less likely to cause reactions amongst people.
Chicken-of-the-Woods Mushrooms feel a bit like suede in your hand before cooking. They have a very bland taste, and don’t taste anything like chicken, of course. The best that can be said about them in terms of flavour is that they absorb other flavours in a dish.
They must be cooked thoroughly and never eaten raw. In fact, they should be boiled before further cooking, such as frying. Never use old ones or old parts of one.
About half the people who try Chicken-of-the-Woods Mushrooms end up being sensitive to them. Some reactions are as mild as lips swelling and light-headedness; many reactions are more pronounced, such as severe nausea and being quite sick. Older parts of the fungus tend to have a greater likelihood of causing reactions. Those growing on conifers, eucalyptus or hemlock, shouldn’t be eaten, as the chances of poisoning increase further.
Freeze, don’t dry: becomes very woody when dried.
When cooked, their texture is somewhat like cooked chicken, and thus their name.