Congratulations! You’ve caught yourself a chicken of the woods.
These fungi are delicious, nutritious, and gigantic — it’s common to find specimens weighing several pounds. This is a stroke of good luck, but preserving such a massive mushroom can be difficult. What exactly are you going to do with it?
I’m here to break down the best ways to store your shroom according to your resources and preferences. Once you know how to store chicken of the woods correctly, you can use your summer harvest for sustenance through the winter and beyond.
Top Five Ways to Store Chicken of the Woods
1. Refrigerator Storage
Chicken of the woods will stay fresh for up to seven days in the refrigerator.
The most basic way to keep any food fresh is to keep it cold, so storing mushrooms in the fridge is a logical place to start. This method is best for people who plan to consume, give away, or otherwise use up their chicken within a week.
It is not ideal for long-term storage. The mushrooms lose flavor after two or three days, breaking down and becoming unpalatable after about a week. Of course, some people report their chickens stay good for several weeks in the fridge, but you don’t really want to risk it. If you won’t eat it soon, use a different storage method.
Think the fridge is the best choice for you? Here’s how to do it properly:
- Ensure your fridge is 40°F or colder, the safe temperature to store produce, meat, and mushrooms.
- Cut out any visible bruising on your fresh mushrooms. Bruising promotes microbial growth and causes mushrooms to spoil faster, so remove it before it can spread.
- Aside from trimming the bad parts, do not slice or process the mushrooms before storing them in the fridge. Cut mushrooms spoil faster, so begin with whole fronds or shelves instead.
- Do not wash the mushrooms before storing them; wash them before cooking. Excess moisture promotes bacterial growth. You can pick off insects with your fingers and wipe away dirt with a dry rag.
- Use a paper or mesh bag instead of a plastic bag or Tupperware. This encourages airflow around the mushrooms and helps prevent bacteria from proliferating.
- Store the mushrooms in the central part of your fridge rather than the crisper drawer. The high humidity in the crisper could promote spoilage.
2. Freezer Storage
Chicken of the woods will stay good for up to 12 months in the freezer.
Need a more long-term option? Freezing your chicken of the woods could be the perfect choice. This method is best if you have a substantial harvest you’d like to use up over the next several months.
The jury’s out on exactly how long your frozen chicken will last. The mushroom’s water content and starting quality will be significant factors, but it should last between nine and twelve months if you prep it right.
To cook or not to cook?
People often say you shouldn’t freeze raw mushrooms, which is mostly correct. The majority of fungi contain a lot of water. When frozen, the liquid expands, turning your nice meaty mushroom into a slushie.
However, chicken of the woods has a relatively low water content and will retain much of its original flavor and texture when frozen raw. Of course, the water content can still vary between specimens. Some are more moist, especially young ones. Older fruits or those exposed to a lot of sunlight are drier.
I find raw freezing preferable simply because it reduces the processing time. My only exception is when a specimen is exceptionally young and moist. Then, I parboil or sauté it in oil and white wine before freezing it so it releases some of the juices.
You might want to try both ways to see what works for you. If you freeze chickens raw, remember to cook them thoroughly before eating them — any wild food may contain pathogens, and you don’t want to ingest those!
Is freezing your method of choice? Here’s how to get the best results:
- Clean mushrooms thoroughly before freezing. You can even wash them in water, but if you do, dry them with a towel and leave them to air-dry for at least an hour before packaging them. You want to remove as much moisture as possible.
- Chop your chicken in slices about an inch thick or leave it whole according to your preferences.
- Before packaging, you can “flash-freeze” sliced chickens for a few hours on a freezer tray. This is not a true commercial-style flash-freeze and won’t prevent ice crystals from forming, but it will prevent mushroom chunks from fusing together in the freezer bag.
- Use the proper packaging. If you use containers that trap air, ice will form and ruin the mushroom’s flavor and texture. Putting chicken of the woods in a tight, airless bag and using a vacuum sealer to remove air is best. If you don’t have one, don’t sweat it. I have great results with regular freezer bags. Simply portion your mushrooms into the bags, carefully roll out all the air, seal them, and stow them away.
- Do not defrost your mushrooms before cooking since this can corrupt the texture. Instead, cook them frozen.
3. Dry Storage
Chicken of the woods will last up to five years when dried.
Drying mushrooms is one of the best ways to preserve them for long-term storage, but it does take away some cooking options from you. While mushrooms like wood ear reconstitute perfectly, chicken of the woods is another bird entirely.
Dried chicken of the woods retains flavor nicely, but the texture gets ruined when dried and reconstituted. Essentially, it becomes mush. While you can’t use it for chicken nuggets, it still makes a delicious addition to stews and sauces. You can even grind it in the blender for some delicious umami chicken of the woods spice powder.
You can dry chickens in a dehydrator, the oven, or open air. I’ve reviewed how to prep and dry fungi in my mushroom dehydration guide, which contains all the information you need to complete the process.
Think dehydration is the way to go? Here’s how to store the harvest once you’ve dried it:
- Use mason jars, Tupperware, or Ziploc bags to keep your shrooms fresh for up to a year. Keep the containers in a cool, dark place.
- Use mylar bags to keep dried mushrooms fresh for up to five years. To help extend shelf-life further, store the bags in a cool, dark place or the freezer.
- Whatever storage container you use, consider adding an oxygen absorber. These neat little packets prevent oxygen from lingering around your dried fungi and stop spoilage in its tracks.
4. Fermenting and Pickling
Chicken of the woods will last for several weeks when pickled and up to eight months when fermented.
Fermenting and pickling are both delicious preservation techniques that rely on acid to prevent microbial growth. Pickling involves submerging food in an acidic brine, while fermentation creates an acidic environment through biological processes. Either one will work well with chicken of the woods.
We’ve discussed both methods in an in-depth pickling guide, which gives you all the info you need to get started. No matter what process you choose, don’t forget to cook the mushroom beforehand. Boiling it in water for five to ten minutes will be sufficient.
Want to try your hand at fermenting or pickling chicken of the woods? Here are some helpful tips:
- Slice mushrooms into ½-inch strips before boiling. A thinner slice ensures they cook all the way through.
- Customize your brine recipe with herbs and spices to keep things interesting with distinct flavors.
- You can use mason jars for pickling, but chicken of the woods are big. To make processing them easier, consider getting yourself a pickling crock that can hold more substantial amounts of fungi. You can transfer it to jars for storage once it has fermented.
- Store pickled chicken in your fridge or a cool, dark place to make it last longer.
Chicken of the woods will last up to five years when canned.
Canning chicken of the woods works great for long-term storage. Cans are compact and convenient to stow away in any corner of your home. They’re easy to pop open and they last a long time. The USDA guidelines recommend keeping cans for about a year, but this is more about quality than safety. As time passes, flavor and nutrient content can decrease, but canned items shouldn’t go bad.
Keep in mind that you must use a pressure canner to can chicken of the woods. Mushrooms are a low-acid food and have the potential for deadly botulism growth. Canning them under pressure is the only way to kill these bacteria.
The only exception is if you’ve already fermented or pickled them — in this case, the acidic environment renders it safe to water-bath can them. Check out our guides on water-bath canning and pressure canning for a complete breakdown of the two processes.
Want to try your hand at canning chicken of the woods? Here are some tips for success:
- Always cook chicken of the woods before canning it.
- Add a pinch of ascorbic acid or a vitamin C tablet to your canning liquid to preserve chicken of the woods’ beautiful natural colors.
- If you enjoy canning, consider buying a pressure canner. It makes everything easier and faster and allows you to can more items safely!
Now that you know how to store chicken of the woods, you won’t be scared to harvest the next mega-mushroom you find. Armed with all the knowledge you need to preserve it, you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your harvest all year long.