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Seasonal Eats: When Life Gives You Wild Chanterelles
Foraged Chanterelles, Photo Credit: Gregory Han / thekitchn.com
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.
Getting down to it, chanterelles are seldom eaten raw, with some reports of stomach upset associated. Any preparations that include other raw ingredients will include a pre-cooking of your mushrooms. Chanterelles have flavor components that are fat-soluble and alcohol-soluble, so a delicate sauté in butter or white wine [or both] does a great job of teasing them out. Many things can overpower them, however, so it’s about finding that balance of flavor when you want it, and using their richness to enhance heavier dishes when you want some serious comfort food. The closest I found to raw is this interesting chanterelle pickle, which didn’t sound good at first, but the author does a good job of selling it.
On the lighter side of things, this arugala, pear & parmesan salad with chanterelles definitely on my list for this week. For a non-vegetarian salad, this warm chanterelle salad with speck and poached eggs sounds like it has a great mix of flavors. Though we’re quickly moving out of the salad category, these wild mushroom bundles wrapped up in collard greens is another definite go-to for me. Or try another seasonal medly, brussles sprouts with shallots and wild mushrooms. Cook them up in a seasoned ragout to top your broiled or grilled fish, or roast them up with your seasonal root veggies.
When you want to showcase the delicate chanterelle flavor, sticking with light carbs and dairy are the suggestion. If you like rice, try wild mushroom risotto. Prefer potatoes? Try wild mushroom potato gratin, or take it further with this blue cheese incarnation. If you love hand-made pastas, gnudi is a type of ricotta gnocchi you can make with swiss chard and fall mushrooms.
If you want to bake them up in the tart-pizza-pie category, chanterelles go well on pizza. Bake yourself a shell and add a wild mushroom tart or mushroom & leek tart to your table. If quiche is more your thing, pick up some fontina and try this mushroom fontina quiche. And one for the “oooh, dang!” category: wild mushroom bread pudding.
The most interesting meat dishes I found are deep in the comfort food category. Next Thanksgiving, go all out with juniper brined roast turkey with chanterelle mushroom gravy. Have too many chanterelles and a party coming up? Consider tri-tip beef stroganoff with wild mushroom on sourdough toasts. Pair the richness of wild mushrooms with roast beef and carmelized shallot mashed potatoes. If I haven’t covered what you like, I’m sure these people at marx foods have, that is one impressive list of chanterelle suggestions.
I took cues from lots of these recipes and came up with my own, but it’s hard to say what it is. A side-dish? A potato-mushroom conference? Something to put with your roast chicken? Whatever reason you have for making it, it’s really tasty on its own or with complimentary dishes.
Savory Mushrooms & Potatoes (Heather Parlato/LAist)
Savory Chanterelles & Potatoes
1-2 lbs fresh chanterelles, large dice [use the amount you wish]
2 tbs butter
1 splash wine vinegar or white wine
2 medium potatoes, large dice
1/2 onion, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
salt & pepper to taste
dusting of cumin & paprika
Place diced potatoes in a vegetable steamer inside a pot over water, and steam the potatoes 10-15 minutes, depending on size of dice. The idea is to mostly-cook them, reserving the final stage for the pan with the mushrooms.
Wash and pat dry the chanterelles, cutting off any parts that are bruised or too dirty to clean, then dice large. Melt 1 tb butter in a frying pan and add the chanterelles, turning up to high heat and toss to coat and cook through. After 3 minutes, add the splash of wine vinegar or white wine, and cook 2-3 more minutes. The mushrooms i worked with released a lot of liquid, this is fine, save it if you got it!
Remove mushrooms from heat and reserve in a bowl. In the same pan, add 1 tb butter and sauté the onion, shallots and garlic 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add the steamed potatoes, and pour the mushroom liquid into the pan without adding the mushrooms just yet. Toss everything to coat and simmer the potatoes to finish cooking through, 2-3 minutes.
Finally, add the mushrooms and simmer about 2 more minutes. Squeeze juice of 1 lemon over the top, mix well, and season with salt & pepper to taste. When serving, add a dusting of cumin, paprika and finishing salt of your choice over the top.