Chicken of the Woods Burger Recipe | Foraging for Wild Mushrooms
Farmer Dave and chef Whitney Dane host monthly Forage and Farm to Table dinners at the Eco-Institute in North Carolina. This week, Dave shares his love for wild mushroom foraging with us, as well as a very special menu item: his spectacular chicken of the woods burger recipe.
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Food under our feet
In sidewalks cracks, along highways, by the stoplight on the road, in that forgotten area in your garden, on the edge of forests, in meadows, deep in the forest, and here at the Eco-Institute, re-growing in areas that I mowed down, WILD FOOD surrounds us! Everywhere I look nowadays, all I can see is wild food growing: dandelions, thistle, wild lettuce, violets, poke, chickweed, cleavers, fireweed, dock, nettles, elderberry, and blackberries, to name a few. I also see edible wild mushrooms that pop up everywhere after a good rain. One of my favorite foraging moments happened in the parking lot of a huge fitness gym. My foraging instructor and I walked past BMWs, Mercedes, Audi and Infinite cars, before coming up on a specific mushroom we were after, growing right there in the landscaping mulch. We picked bags full if it and boy, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face!
Sometimes I wonder why I work so hard to cultivate a garden when food grows all around me without me having to lift a finger. Maybe it’s about control, maybe it’s because I like tomatoes and sweet corn. This deeply philosophical conversation may have to be taken up in my next blog post…
How does one even begin to forage for wild foods? And why would I want to forage for wild foods when I can just go to the supermarket and buy whatever I want 24 hours a day?
For one, foraged foods are free. A friend and I challenged ourselves to go a week only eating from the land. The result? My bank account appreciated the break, because we spent zero dollars on food. (For the record, we made it three days because… butter and salt!)
Secondly, many wild foods are more nutritious than anything I’m cultivating in my garden. For example, pine needles, depending on the species, have 3 to 5 times the amount of Vitamin C as oranges. Yellow dock root is a powerful liver detoxifier and blood purifier. And from what I learned on my foraging adventures, one cup of stinging nettles contains 300% our daily dosage of Vitamin A and K. Another teacher of mine once asked: “Which is better for us, wild mushrooms or ones cultivated indoors?” The answer was pretty obvious in this context. He was getting at the point that wild mushrooms need strong immune systems to ward off disease and pests, whereas indoor grown mushrooms, that aren’t subjected to the same challenges, don’t develop the same defenses. Hence, the wild mushrooms build stronger immune systems, and their strength, so to speak, is passed along to us when we eat them. I lack the science to back this up, but it makes sense to me.
Farm to Table Dinner at the Eco-Institute
Since March 2018, I’ve been hosting monthly Forage & Farm to Table dinners at the Eco-Institute at Pickards Mountain where I currently live and work. One of my favorite dishes we’ve created, our wild mushrooms burger recipe, includes a very special wild mushroom to me: Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus cincinnatus). This mushroom is large, shelf-like, orange, and as it name indicates, has a similar texture and taste to chicken when prepared correctly. From the day I found it in the forest until the day I harvested it for the Forage & Farm to Table dinner (3 days later), I checked up on it daily. It’s that good. We ended up serving this mushroom to our guests in the form of epic wild mushroom vegan burgers.
Foraging for Chicken of the Woods
Instead of giving you chicken of the woods mushroom identification tips, I encourage you to seek out a local foraging teacher for safety’s sake. One needs to have specific knowledge of what they’re picking from the wild before they ever try to eat it, which takes practice and patience. I can almost guarantee you that without looking too far you can find a foraging teacher or Meet-Up group wherever you live. Where there are plants, there will be plant people! I’ve learned so much in the last few years going on plant walks at the Eco-Institute or at earth skill gatherings like Piedmont Earthskills Gathering or the Firefly Gathering, or going on hikes with my mentors. Other great resources are plant and mushroom identification groups on Facebook: I take a clear photo of a plant or mushroom and post it onto the identification group’s page and get an answer really quick. But to be very clear, eating wild plants or wild mushrooms should only be done with absolute certainty about identification and this is usually done with an instructor in real life. We need to be as clear about the poisonous plants/mushrooms as we are about the non-poisonous plants/mushrooms. There’s a saying that goes “all mushrooms are edible, but some only once”. I will also take this opportunity to clarify that I do not recommend consuming wild food growing alongside busy roadways because of possible contamination.
Chicken of the Woods Burger Recipe
Our wild mushrooms burger was inspired by this Easy Grillable Veggie Burgers recipe from Minimalist Baker (kudos to you!). Here are the materials, ingredients and steps you’ll need to make your own vegan chicken of the woods burger.
Total time: Depends on harvesting success
Cooking time: 2 hours
Ingredients & materials:
- 2 cups raw chicken of the woods (Laetiporus cincinnatus)
- 2 cups hemp or cashew milk
- Spices (add each to taste, I went strong on the spice because I knew I’d be adding rice, beans, walnuts and bread crumbs): smoked paprika, cumin, salt, black pepper, liquid smoke, vegan worcestershire sauce
- Food processor
Vegan burger mix:
- 1.5 cup garden grown beans (mix of lima and buddha beans), mashed
- 1 cup brown rice, cooked
- 1 cup walnuts, toasted and blended
- 1/3 cup gluten-free bread crumbs
- Food processor
To serve: (get creative, here’s what we used)
- Burger buns
- Sliced tomato
- Vegan smoked gouda cheese
- Homemade condiments: garlic scape pest, infused ketchup and thyme-lemon aioli
- Cut and clean chicken of the woods mushroom
- Use food processor to chop wild mushrooms into rice-sized chunks
- Simmer wild mushrooms in nut milk (we used hemp, but I think I would do it with cashew next time)
- Spice it up strong with the spices listed
- Continue simmering the mushrooms until very tender, at least 45 minutes
- Strain excess liquid
- Combine the wild mushrooms with the vegan burger mix, mash well
- Make burger patties the size of your liking
- To cook, pan sear them in a cast iron until you get a crispy exterior
- Place in the oven at 375°F until cooked through, about 30 minutes
- Place sliced vegan gouda cheese on top of hot burger to get that nice melted action
- Serve on burger buns with sliced tomato, lettuce, and homemade condiments like garlic scape pesto (insanely good!), infused ketchup and a vegan thyme-lemon aioli
These burgers were a hit at the Forage & Farm to Table dinner. The guests walked away very full and very happy, which in turn made the chefs very happy too. If you live near the Triangle in North Carolina, I hope you will join us for one of the Eco-Institute’s monthly Forage and Farm to Table dinners.
It hope this serves as inspiration to you that with some basic foraging skills, it can be quite simple to incorporate wild foraged foods into your meals. Even if you have no clue what you’re looking at, have a look anyway! Having our eyes open is the first step. Next time you’re cruisin’ down the sidewalk, waiting at the stoplight, walking past that forgotten area in your backyard, or mowing the lawn, take a closer look at what’s growing there. It may surprise you the kind of nutrition and tasty treats Mother Nature provides when we’re not looking. You may find that foraging becomes a passion that you never knew you had. And you can impress your friends and family with your newfound botanical knowledge… or weird them out because you’re now eating “lawn weeds”. Side effects may include long walks in the woods, more money in your pocket, a healthier diet and a connection to the Earth.
Let me know what you’re finding around where you live! What foraged foods are you familiar with? What foraged food recipes do you have?
P.S. If you enjoyed this foraged recipe, you may enjoy learning how to make pickled grape leaves with lacto-fermentation or how to make nut milk with hickory nuts.
Permaculture principles applied:
Dave wrote it beautifully: when you take the time to look at what is growing around you and learn about these plants and fungi, you’ll begin to noticing wild edibles left and right.
A chicken of the woods burger is the opposite of fast food, and that’s partly what makes it so enjoyable. Finding these delicious wild mushrooms might just be as rewarding as finding a pot of gold. Spending the time to forage for these beauties only adds to the satisfying experience of sitting down to a delectable foraged meal.
Chicken of the woods can be tricky to come across and isn’t available year-round. Learn about other wild edibles that are available at different times throughout the year.
Look at what is growing around you. Are there plants you might consider to be weeds? Dig a little deeper – maybe these plants actually have wonderful nutritional or medicinal properties.
Dave is the garden manager at the Eco-Institute in North Carolina. He’s also a wild food enthusiast, beekeeper, mushroom grower, chef, seed saver, groundskeeper, musician, student and teacher. Dave has an infectious passion for growing food, foraging for food, cooking food and without a doubt, eating food. A native of Kansas, Dave left Kansas University in 2013 in response to his heart´s message to pursue his passions. He found himself working on organic farms in Hawaii and lived there for two years learning the basics of small scale agriculture. Dave has been part of the Eco-Institute family in NC since 2015 where he hosts Forage and Farm to Dinner tables for the local community.