I consider the chanterelle mushrooms to be the queen of all 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 arrive with the winter rains, but they should keep at it until at least March. 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.
Over the decades, I’ve cooked chanterelle mushrooms 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 — at least in the West; Eastern chanterelle mushrooms can indeed get buggy. 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 the chanterelles or they will burn. Take them out of the broiler and let them dry in a warm oven or a dehydrator until crisp.
Dealing with abundance is an issue. If you are a forager, you can easily come home with 5 to 10 pounds on a good trip. Chanterelles store well in the fridge — I’ve done up to 10 days — but there is a limit. First, distribute some to your friends; they will love you forever.
If 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. I rarely dry chanterelles any longer.
Dried chanterelles lose a lot of their flavor and aroma, however. If yo must dry them, 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 only infuses her mushrooms in the vodka for 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.
A better way to preserve chanterelle mushrooms is to pickle them.
Obviously the single best way to eat chanterelles is to saute 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.
What else goes well with chanterelles? Over the years I’ve come up with a list of chanty-friendly foods, supplemented by some other items listed in that great cooking guide, The Flavor Bible.
- Butter, duck fat or olive oil
- Chicken, turkey, pheasant, partridge, quail
- Wild boar, rabbit or lean pork
- Firm white fish, such as halibut or shark
- Winter squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Light stocks such as chicken, pheasant, rabbit
- White wine, vermouth, gin, dry sherry
- Cream, creme fraiche and cheese, especially dry cheeses
- Bay leaves, thyme, parsley, garlic, chives, saffron
Chanterelles and cream are a natural, and the best expression of that I’ve come up with was my version of Auguste Escoffier’s Veloute Agnes Sorel, a cream of chanterelle soup. It is, as I have said before, sex in a bowl.
But here’s the thing: If you scale back the amount of liquid in the soup you can make a chanterelle puree that is very much like the best mashed potatoes you’ve ever eaten.
The make chanterelle puree, you dry-saute chanterelles, then add butter and salt, a little thyme, shallots and one garlic clove. Let this saute until everything is soft. Move it all to a food processor and add just a little stock, maybe 1/4 cup. Buzz this well. It should still be pretty gunky. Loosen it with heavy cream and puree. Taste for salt and, if you want to get fancy, push it through a fine-mesh sieve. Absolutely heavenly.
This puree is not just a substitute for mashed potatoes. Use it as a ravioli or pierogi filling, or to stuff pasta shells or French crepes.