The Queen of Wild Mushrooms

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Shaw_Chanties_11-15_post.jpg

Holly A. Heyser


I consider the chanterelle to be the queen of wild mushrooms, consort to the king of all mushrooms, the porcini. Chanterelles are the light to porcini's dark—pheasant, not beef. White wine, not red. Porcini are muscle, chanterelles finesse.

Here in California, our chanties are only just now arriving with the winter rains, but they should keep at it until at least March. They are going gangbusters in the Pacific Northwest right now, though. Once our Western season ends, all you need to do is wait a couple months and they'll start popping again in the East. Chanterelles are like that: They are always fruiting somewhere in the world. Although we think of chanties as a North American-European mushroom, it also common in Asia, and is even found in some parts of Africa.

Opening the box I caught a whiff of that lovely apricot-ish aroma and gazed at the glow of golden chanterelles. My
old friends.

I haven't yet gotten out this season to check for chanterelles—I suspect we'll need at least one more rain to bring them out in the Coastal Range—but I wanted to get in on the Pacific Northwest's bonanza, so I scored some chanties from my friends at Earthy Delights. Opening the box I caught a whiff of that lovely apricot-ish aroma and gazed at the glow of golden chanterelles. My old friends.

Over the years I've cooked chanterelles six ways to Sunday, and, finally, I think I'm getting to know them as an ingredient.

For starters, chanterelles are firm, fibrous, and generally free of bugs. Their texture lets you slice them easily, or even pull them apart from top to stem. This means you can make chanterelle chips.

To make chanty chips, slice the mushrooms as thin as you can on a mandoline, then paint them with melted butter or oil, sprinkle with salt, and broil. Keep an eye on them or they will burn. Take them out of the broiler and let them dry in a warm oven or a dehydrator until crisp.

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Hank Shaw

When you dry chanterelles their fibrousness gets more pronounced, and the mushrooms get chewy. So chewy that they will need to be cooked an awful long time to avoid that "Hey! I'm gnawing on shoe leather!" feeling you get from a lot of dried mushrooms.

Dried chanterelles keep their flavor and aroma, however, which makes them worth drying nonetheless. Either use them in soups, braises, or other long-cooking methods, or do what professional forager Connie Green does in her new book, The Wild Table—she infuses vodka with dried chanties.

Is this not the coolest thing? The chanterelles were in the jar only a few hours when Holly took this picture—check out that color! Green infuses her mushrooms in the vodka for only one week, after which you strain the liquor through cheesecloth and bottle.

There are some flavor compounds in chanterelles that are alcohol-soluble, so this method makes sense. It is also why you really want to add a little booze to your chanterelles when you cook them in other ways. Cooking is about extracting flavor, and not everything is water-soluble.

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Holly A. Heyser

Can't vouch for the flavor of this vodka yet because I haven't yet tried it. But I have high hopes. It smells pretty boozy, yet that apricot-like aroma is still coming through. Will keep you posted...

Obviously the single best way to eat chanterelles is to sauté them in butter. Yes, you can use other fats or oils, but, other than duck fat, I've not yet found another lipid that brings out the flavor of chanterelles quite as well. Again, there are a whole set of flavor compounds in chanties that are fat-soluble, so you will want to extract them with something. My experience says to stick with butter.

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Hank Shaw runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. More

A former line cook, veteran political reporter, and fisherman, Hank Shaw is a freelance food writer who runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which chronicles Shaw's search for what he calls the Forgotten Feast: The seasonal foods--mostly wild--we once delighted in, but are now curiosities at best. Game, wild mushrooms, seafood, and wild plants all have a place in modern cooking, and Shaw spends his days exploring their possibilities on the plate.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook was nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in both 2009 and 2010 and by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. His work has appeared in magazines such as The Art of Eating, Field & Stream, and Gastronomica. He hunts, fishes, forages, and gardens in Northern California with his girlfriend--and photographer--Holly A. Heyser.
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