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Seasonal Eats: When Life Gives You Wild Chanterelles

2011_02_01-chanterelles.jpg
Foraged Chanterelles, Photo Credit: Gregory Han / thekitchn.com
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I found myself in the fortunate position of receiving a bag of chanterelles from a generous friend, and figured the situation alone warranted coverage in seasonal eats--for what is more seasonal than foraged food? Before we go any further though, I want to stress that foraging for mushrooms is not for amateurs. Despite the fact that chanterelles are one of the more recognizable species out there, without experience and a mycologist to consult, there are at least 2 close imitators that are not edible. If you’re interested in the wild world of mushrooms, get involved with the Los Angeles Mycological Society, go on some guided forays, check out the 27th annual wild mushroom fair on February 13 at the LA Arboretum and seek the advice of the experts. Until then, buy from one of the great mushroom sellers at the farmer’s markets around town.

Chanterelles are in season from September to February, and here in the western United States, we have some of the biggest specimens around. Unlike farmed mushrooms, which may be fed their food of choice domestically, Chanterelles are a type of fungi that has a symbiotic relationship with root systems of hardwood trees, conifers, shrubs, and bushes, often among deep leaf litter, so they must be foraged in their preferred habitat. Chanterelles are orange or yellow, meaty and funnel-shaped. On the lower surface, underneath the smooth cap, it has gill-like pleats that run almost all the way down its stipe, which tapers down seamlessly from the cap. It has a fruity smell, reminiscent of apricots and a mildly peppery taste. Chanterelles are seldom invaded by insects or forest animals, which makes them a rewarding find.

If you’re buying them at the market, look for fragrant mushrooms in excellent condition, with a fragrant odor, and apricot or golden in color. Avoid mushrooms that show too much bruising, or pleats that are granular or fragmenting from the stipe of the mushroom. Once you get them, dry brush them to clean, or wash with water only right before you cook, since wet mushrooms never store well. For more descriptions of chanterelles, see the mycological society of San Francisco's page on them. In terms of nutrition information, Wikipedia says the chanterelle is rich in Vitamin C, Potassium, and Vitamin D. Do read up on dangerous imitators while you’re there.