The Cornell Mushroom Bog is a great resource for mushroom hunters. Their entry on Eating the Chicken of the Woods begins:
David Arora remarks in Mushrooms Demystified that this is one of the “foolproof four” — an unmistakable mushroom. (see below)
This large, brightly colored fungus is often found in clusters but is occasionally solitary. You may discover this mushroom during the summer and fall but rarely in winter or spring. The top surface of Chicken of the Woods is bright orange which can be either more reddish or yellowish than you see here. It tends to lighten in color near the edges. This mushroom has no gills, instead its bright yellow undersurface is covered with tiny pores. The young Chicken of the Woods is “succulent” and has a mild flavor. Older specimens tend to change color as they develop, as well as become brittle. The young mushrooms have bright yellows and oranges; in age they dull to yellow and then pure white.
A good tree can yield up to 50 pounds, but be wary of older fungi as they toughen and develop a sour flavor! If you have found a specimen worthy of collection, you can harvest the mushrooms and return the next year for another crop. Or cut just the outer edge (about 5 cm of the fungus) and return later in the season for a second helping. Be wary of Chickens growing on conifers (in the Northeast) as they are a different species and can cause poisoning. Chicken of the Woods can make a fine chicken substitute as long as you make sure to fully cook the mushroom.
Chicken of the Woods grows in trees that are either living or decaying. These mushrooms cause a reddish brown heart-rot of wood. If the mushrooms are seen fruiting, you can be sure that the fungus has already attacked the tree. They can destabilize a tree by hollowing out its center–this can be problematic for forest owners. Historically, this fungus was known to damage the wooden ships of the British Naval Fleet.
Read on for more and also see Chicken of the Woods or Sulphur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus) from MichiganMorels.com and Laetiporus on Wikipedia.
More Michigan mushrooms on Michigan in Pictures!