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Chicken and Biscuits, a late summer mushroom breakfast

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The Appalachian summer provides several delicious and easy-to-identify mushrooms for the amateur forager to learn about. Probably the most sought after of the summer mushrooms — Laetiporus sulphureus, known as Chicken of the Woods, is especially valued by chefs and culinaires because of its uncanny chicken texture and flavor. To celebrate this beautiful abundance from the mountains, and to pay homage to a traditional Appalachian breakfast, we paired Chicken of the Woods with another late-summer mushroom Grifola frondosa, commonly referred to as the Hen of the Woods or maitake mushroom, to create this unbelievable Chicken and Biscuits recipe.

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Laetiporus sulphureus, Chicken of the Woods

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Grifola frondosa, commonly referred to as the Hen of the Woods

Fried Chicken:

For the Southern Fried Chicken of the Woods, you will need:

  • 1 lb.chicken of the woods mushrooms
  • 1 gallon buttermilk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon each of garlic powder, celery seed, and black pepper
  • 2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • “plenty oil for frying”

Break chicken into bite-sized pieces and soak in buttermilk, at least 30 minutes, but preferable overnight.

Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Heat oil to 375℉ Remove chicken from buttermilk reserving leftover buttermilk. In batches, dip buttermilk-soaked chicken in flour, back into the buttermilk, then back into the flour again, coating well each time.

Fry until golden brown, about five minutes. Drain well before serving.


Hen Gravy:

For the Hen of the Woods Gravy, you will need:

  • ½ lb. fresh maitake, chopped
  • --or-- 1oz dried maitake, broken up by hand
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 medium-sized shallot, minced very fine
  • sea salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • a sprig of thyme

In a small saucepan, over medium-low heat, warm 2 cups of milk with the maitakes keeping it always just below simmer and stirring often, for about twenty minutes or until dried mushrooms have hydrated— ten minutes or so is plenty with fresh mushrooms. Remove from heat.

In a skillet, over medium-high heat, melt butter and then lower to medium-low, cooking the garlic, shallots and flour until the roux mixture begins to get some color, but is still pretty golden. Whisk in the maitake milk and raise the heat a little, stirring constantly and as it thickens, season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the remaining cup of milk when the gravy becomes too thick and serve.


Biscuits:

For the biscuits, I used a 36-year old sourdough culture that was given to me as a gift. Although a more mature culture will give a richer flavor, you can easily begin by gathering wild yeasts yourself. In The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Katz says, “There is abundant microbial life present on grains… This indigenous microflora is dormant in dried grains and flour, but when the flour is moistened, microbial activity resumes. Stirring stimulates and distributes microbial activity, encourages yeast growth via oxygenation and prevents surface mold growth.”

Simply mix together equal parts flour and water and cover with a dishcloth and a rubber band so that no bugs can get inside. Allow it to ferment for several days until it is really bubbly and beginning to smell sour. Feed the culture with new flour and water— about three times the volume of what you started with, and let it rest 8 hours before you use it. You can keep the culture alive indefinitely, storing it in a jar in the fridge with a few holes punched in the top. Whenever you want to use your culture, remove it from the fridge and add one tablespoon of it to equal parts flour and water, discarding the rest. Save a portion of the newly-fed culture the same way you did before for the next time.

It may seem like a lot of work the first time, but once you have begun your wild-gathered yeast culture, it will continue to grow and be like a faithful friend. This is the way all bread was made until about two centuries ago. Packaged yeast from the store may be quicker, but the broad palate of pro-bacteria instills a depth and complexity of flavor to anything you make with it, that only gets better as your culture ages.

To make the biscuits, you will need:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons high-fat butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
  • 1/2 cup sourdough, watered down until it is about as thick as milk
  • coarse sea salt
  • cracked black pepper

Preheat your oven to 425℉ and combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. Make a well in the center and add the sourdough. Combine loosely with a spatula in just a few strokes— it won’t be fully incorporated yet, but enough that you can turn it out on a dusted pastry-surface. Allow it to rest or “autolyse” 20-30 minutes

Fold the dough over itself and press it gently back out. Continue folding it and pressing it out five or six times to create layers. With regular biscuits, they tell you not to overwork the dough, but you may work it a little more with these, because they are yeast-raised.

Cut the biscuits out sort of small, and place them tightly in a cast-iron skillet or cake pan. Butter the tops and sprinkle the salt and pepper and let them proof in a warm location. As for proofing time, twenty or thirty minutes should be seen as a bare minimum. The longer you can proof them, up to four hours, the better. Whenever you are ready to bake them, put them in the oven for 15-20 minutes, but keep an eye on them!-- sourdough tends to burn more easily than regular biscuits.

To learn more about sourdough and other types of fermentations, come to Everything Mushrooms and pick up a copy of Sandor Katz’ Art of Fermentation, and while you’re here, ask about what wild mushrooms are currently in season.

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