Chaga Mushrooms — Gift of God?
Chaga is one of the weirdest mushrooms you may ever see. A fungal parasite found on birch trees, Chaga is a hardened, blackened, crusty formation that looks like a bursting tumor. — Paul Stamets, Fungi Perfecti
I was nodding away at my computer like I do most afternoons around two, so I walked into our communal kitchen to grab a cup of coffee and stretch my legs. I bumped into John, the chief forager and force behind Foods in Season, the wild specialty foods company I work for in Washington state. We were talking about food when he offered me a cup of fresh brewed Chaga tea and proceeded to tell me about a spectacular braised chicken dish he prepared the night before.
John mentioned he had marinated some chicken legs in Chaga tea overnight before roasting which gave them a very pleasant, almost pheasant-like flavor. I was completely intrigued, I had only heard of Chaga mushrooms and their health qualities. No one had ever talked about using them in a culinary sense.
GIFT OF GOD
Chaga Mushrooms are known as the ‘gift of God’ or ‘mushroom of immortality’ by Siberians. Chaga has been used as an herbal remedy for well over 5,300 years. Chaga mushrooms are wild foraged from birch trees in Alaska and other Northern extremes. Their health benefits are staggering, fueling scientific claims they fight cancers and a host of other medical ailments. The Russians have probably done the most research on Chaga mushrooms. Chaga was approved for public use against cancer by the Medical Academy of Science in Moscow in 1955. Russian scientists are very confident about the healing properties of Chaga because of the numerous studies and clinical trials have been conducted in this country since then.
According to the Russian Medical Academy, Chaga mushrooms:
• have a positive effect against lung and liver cancer
• calm the nervous system
• are proven to positively affect various stomach diseases and ulcers
• stimulate the immune system
• help to reduce blood sugar and fight diabetes
To learn more about Chaga and other mushrooms, listen to Paul Stamets’ informative Ted Talk.
CHAGA CHICKEN SOUP
I am more interested in the edible aspects of Chaga, though I admit to drinking several cups of Chaga tea every day for other reasons. I decided to take John’s marinated chicken one step further and make a Chaga ramen-like soup based on a recipe I obtained from a Japanese chef friend. Give this recipe a go in your own kitchen.
If you have trouble sourcing Chaga mushrooms PM me.
Chaga Chicken Soup
A nourishing soup made from Chaga mushrooms, buckwheat pasta, and winter vegetables
- 2 cups cold Chaga tea see notes
- 3.5-pound chicken
- 2 cups leftover chicken marinade
- 4 cups chicken stock see notes
- 4 cups basic dashi broth see notes
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
finishing the soup
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 5 garlic cloves peeled and chopped
- 1 2-inch section fresh ginger root peeled and chopped fine
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tsp chili paste or more to taste
- 2 cups shiitake mushrooms sliced
- 1 cup fresh cabbage shredded
- 1 sweet onion peeled and sliced thin
- 2 carrots peeled and sliced using a vegetable peeler to cut ribbons
- 4 ounces buckwheat noodles cooked
- Cut the chicken into eight pieces; legs, thighs, breasts, and wings. Marinate them in cold Chaga tea overnight. Save the carcass to make homemade chicken stock, see notes.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Strain the chicken, saving both the chicken and the marinade. In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium-high heat until smoking hot. Arrange the chicken pieces skin-side down, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until well browned on both sides, about 10 minutes. You may need to cook in two batches. Pop the entire pan into the oven and roast for 30 minutes, or until chicken is done. You will notice that with Chaga more sugars are released out of the chicken causing the skin to caramelize beautifully. It will be a gorgeous mahogany color and be, nice and crispy, full of a deep chicken flavor.
- While the chicken is roasting, mix the leftover Chaga marinade, chicken stock, dashi, and soy together in a large Dutch pot and bring to a rapid boil. Remove from heat and let sit while preparing the next steps.
finishing the soup
- Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until smoking hot. Add garlic and ginger and cook until lightly brown, about 3 minutes. Add ground pork and cook until it is fully cooked, about five minutes. Add hoisin sauce and chili paste and reserve.
- Heat remaining vegetable oil in a Dutch oven and saute shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, onion, and carrots over medium-high heat until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the cooked pork and soup base, then bring to a rapid boil.
- To serve, put noodles in a big bowl and ladle soup over. Garnish the bowl with a piece of roasted Chaga chicken.
Chaga Tea is made by steeping Chaga in hot water just like you make regular tea. You can buy powdered chaga already in tea bags or put chaga powdered into bags yourself. I recommend finding a fine chaga powder for this application.
Dashi broth is made by simmering one piece of kombu in 5 cups of cold water with 1.5 cups of bonito flakes for 20 minutes. Strain the fragrant broth and discard the solids. All the ingredients are readily available at almost every Asian grocery or online. I make gallons of dashi then freeze quart-sized containers to use for recipes such as this.
Homemade Chicken stock is easy to make at home. Follow my recipe available here.