It’s January, and our porcini mushrooms have finally petered out over here in California. But like everything in life, their end heralds the beginning of a new season, our winter mushroom season on the North Coast. Our coast is blessed with damp, cool winters, perfect for mushrooms. Chief among them are our cornucopia of winter edibles: black trumpets, yellowfoot chanterelles, two kinds of hedgehog mushrooms, pig’s ears, candy caps and the queen of the forest, the chanterelle.
I’ve recently started hanging out with a cool group of mycophiles, who also double as avid spearfishermen and abalone divers. Carter and Adam, who I hunted porcini with not long ago, are in that crew, as is Eric, who took me out to a spot along the North Coast last week. The spot is more than 3 hours from my house, so it was up at oh-dark-thirty to meet Eric well before dawn.
All told, we’d spend more than 7 hours in the car that day. A lot of driving just for mushrooms, eh? Believe me, it was worth it.
When we finally got there, we didn’t so much “hunt” mushrooms as pick them. The forest floor was carpeted with mushrooms, most of them edible. Eric wanted to start by checking spots for Craterellus cornucopioides, also known as the black trumpet or horn of plenty. This black chanterelle cousin was the prize when I went mushroom hunting with my family in New England back in September, but they don’t start popping in California until winter. And they can fruit in impressive numbers.
Clusters like this were all over the forest, usually in dark places littered with pine duff. I love black trumpets, which Eric calls HOPs, short for Horns of Plenty. They look like something from the Addams Family, or Beetlejuice, which — and I am sure you are not shocked about this — was one of my favorite movies of the 1980s.
Black trumpets are as delicious as they are macabre. They are so aromatic, so savory that I might just like them better than the regal porcini or chanterelles. The only problem with trumpets is that they are black — and that color stains anything they are cooked with, so you need to either go with it, as in my midnight rice recipe, or cook them separately.
Black trumpets are a mainstay in the dried mushroom medley I use as something of a secret ingredient in most of my stocks, broths and stews. I always have several quarts of dried trumpets hanging around in my pantry. The other dried mushroom staple in my house is a brother of the black trumpet, Craterellus tubaeformis, the yellowfoot chanterelle. We found some of those, too, but you’ll hear more from me on this little mushroom later.
Candy caps, Lactarius fragilis, are another drying mushroom — although you can certainly eat both black trumpets and candy caps fresh. This little mushroom, which is believed to only live on the Pacific Coast, has an amazing power: It tastes and smells like maple syrup!
They are pretty little mushrooms, with caps rarely more than four inches wide. They like to live together in loose patches around moss and salal bushes. Most of the mushrooms you see in this picture above are the size of a penny. Candy caps are not a beginner’s mushroom, as there are several lookalikes, some of which are poisonous. (I have some of my favorite mushroom books linked below if you are looking for a full-on identification guide.)
From everything I’ve read, you need a lot of dried candy caps to cook with, so I’ve been collecting as many as I can find. I plan on posting again when I finally get around to cooking with my stash.
Candy caps were sort of an incidental find as we combed the forest. Eric and I were mostly searching for black trumpets, as well as the finest fresh-eating winter mushroom in these parts, the hedgehog. There are two kinds of hedgehogs for the most part (there are others, but they are less common) — big ones and little ones. The big ones are Hydnum repandum, the little ones Hydnum umbilicatum. These are umbilicatum:
Little hedgehogs are friends with black trumpets. You will often find them in close quarters in the piney-salal-huckleberry woods. Black trumpets are typically in darker places, hedgehogs where the light gets a little dappled.
Why are they called hedgehogs? They lack the gills of many mushrooms, and the pores of boletes and polypores. Instead, they have “teeth” under their caps, and those teeth make the mushroom look a little like a prickly porcupine or hedgehog. Another name for this shroom is “sweet tooth.”
From a cooking standpoint, these are some of my favorite mushrooms of all. They are a lot like regular chanterelles, sweet and meaty, but without the apricot aroma. They are especially pretty sauteed. One of my favorite ways to cook them is to combine hedgehogs with slow-cooked gizzards. It sounds strange, but this dish was judged as my best when I was in a cooking competition at Grange a couple years ago. But you can use small hedgies in place of chanterelles.
Large hedgehogs, on the other hand, are the porcini of winter.
They can get large, up to 8-10 inches across at the cap. They are not as dense as porcini, but you can still slice them thin and saute or grill them nicely; they make a good centerpiece on a plate. Eric and I largely struck out on these until we were heading back to the truck at the end of the day. We were only a hundred yards away or so when I saw a flash of ivory under a fallen branch. I carefully wrapped my hand under the cap and picked it, hoping to see teeth and not gills. I was rewarded: A huge hedgie!
“Eric, look! Repandum!” Yes, we’re mushroom geeks. Soon we saw another, then another. We set to picking, and soon we each had a couple pounds, the most I’d ever found in one place. I was beaming. “Surely this has to be one of your best hauls of these, right?” Eric just smiled. He said he’d seen flushes twice that size, so large you need grocery bags to get them all.
We headed back to civilization with several pounds of mushrooms each. In strictly fiscal terms, about $100 worth apiece — more than enough to cover gas. But mushroom hunting is far more than fiscal.
Want to see more photos from the hunt? Holly made a great slideshow of the images:
When I returned home I wanted to make a simple, elegant dish to celebrate our haul. The combination of butter, cured pork, garlic and parsley works with pretty much any mushroom around, so why mess with that concept? The only thing such a dish would need would be something tart. So I sauteed some yellowfoot chanterelles and then doused them with sherry vinegar in the pan. I let this boil away and voila! A quick pickle.
I imagine this to be the kind of dish you might see at The French Laundry: Simple in concept, elegant — and small. A little of this goes a long way. Holly and I ate a big bowl of it and it was too much. But the first 3-4 bites were heaven.
Wild mushrooms and parsley sauce
This is a deceptively simple recipe. It may look like sauteed mushrooms in a parsley sauce, but it is more than that. Make this when you are blessed with lots of different wild mushrooms, and when you have a little time. It is not a weeknight meal. In fact, it is not supposed to be a meal at all. This is a perfect side dish to a fancy dinner.
Although you can buy black trumpet and yellowfoot chanterelles online from Earthy Delights, don’t fret if you can’t find these particular wild mushrooms. Just pick three similarly sized mushrooms and go from there. A good, store-bought trio would be white buttons, shiitake and either beech mushrooms or enoki. Why? You have a “normal” mushroom, a super-flavorful mushroom (shiitake), and a little delicate mushroom for the quick pickle.
The reason you cook all the mushrooms separately is because the black trumpet mushrooms will stain everything else black if you do. If you are not using black trumpet mushrooms, you can saute the non-pickled mushrooms together.
The parsley sauce is one I use a lot. It too, looks simple, and it is, but it requires a little effort — and a fine mesh strainer.
Serves 4-6 as a side dish.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
- 2 bunches of parsley, about 1/4 pound
- 1/4 pound thick-cut pancetta, guanciale or bacon
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 pound yellowfoot chanterelles or button mushrooms
- 1/4 cup high-quality sherry or red wine vinegar
- 1/2 pound black trumpet or shiitake mushrooms
- 1/2 pound hedgehog, chanterelle or beech mushrooms
- 3 teaspoons minced garlic, divided
- To make the parsley sauce, bring a large pot of salty water to a boil. Get a large bowl of ice water ready. Without removing the rubber bands from the bunches of parsley, hold them by the stems into the boiling water for 60-90 seconds. If it gets too hot for your hand, just drop them into the water and fish them out later. Move the parsley from the boiling water to the ice water bath to cool.
- Cut off the top of the parsley bunches and put into a blender with enough water to let the parsley puree properly, about 1/4 cup. Puree thoroughly, then put the puree into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl. Allow to drain untouched for 5 minutes. Discard the green water or drink it or whatever. Now, using a rubber spatula, press the puree through the strainer. This will take some effort, but in about 3-5 minutes you should have everything that is going to get through the strainer through, leaving some dry bits behind. Save what’s in the bowl. This step, incidentally, can be done a day ahead.
- Start the finished dish by rendering the pancetta (I use guanciale) or bacon until crispy. Set it aside and pour off the fat and save.
- In the same pan, turn the heat up to high for a minute, then add the yellowfoot chanterelles or beech mushrooms. Allow to dry saute until they give up their water, which can take a couple minutes for beech mushrooms. Add one tablespoon of butter and 1 teaspoon of garlic and saute until the mushrooms begin to brown. Add the sherry vinegar, toss to combine and let this cook down to a glaze. Turn off the heat and move the mushrooms to a bowl.
- Wipe the pan down and set it on high heat again. Add the black trumpet or shiitake mushrooms and saute with another tablespoon of butter and half the remaining bacon fat. Add another teaspoon of garlic, toss to combine and saute over high heat until the mushrooms brown, 2-5 minutes. Put the mushrooms in a bowl and set aside. Repeat this process with the hedgehog or button mushrooms.
- Finish the parsley sauce by pour it into a small pot. Add 1-2 tablespoons butter and season well with salt. Do not let it boil, just heat it though gently.
- Complete the dish by pouring some sauce in individual bowls. Toss all the mushrooms and the pancetta together and put a little on top of the parsley sauce. Serve at once.