While morel, ramp and fiddlehead seasons have pretty much wrapped up in the eastern US, there is still some good news for foragers east of the Mississippi. Chanterelles, the beautiful, golden “Queen of the Forest,” are coming into season. Chanterelles are a fall and winter mushroom in the west, but late spring and early summer is the time when pickers from Louisiana north through Michigan (and up into Nova Scotia, Canada) will be filling their baskets with the fruity, fragrant fungi.
In the Midwest, morels tend to dominate the thoughts of fungi-philes throughout the spring, and for many, mushroom picking begins and ends there. But if you love mushrooms, and you’re not seeking out chanterelles, you’re missing out on a real treat. Chanterelles have a flavor and aroma that is absolutely unique. Their haunting flavor is often said to be spicy, floral and apricot-like, but words cannot adequately describe this marvelous mushroom and it must be eaten to be fully appreciated. Chanterelles have a particularly pleasant texture too; firm, with a little bit of “al dente” firmness, even after cooking. Chanterelles have the added benefit of storing very well in the refrigerator and can last a week or two when carefully kept in a container that allows them to breathe, like a plain brown paper bag.
If Chanterelles have a single flaw, it’s that they don’t dry especially well -or rather, they do dry well, but don’t reconstitute as nicely as other mushrooms. Dried chanterelles, sadly, can be rather tough, even after long soaking and cooking. There is a method to using dried chanterelles that works quite well, however. When dried chanterelles are pulverized in a spice grinder, food processor or blender, the resulting powder and larger granules can be used in pasta, soups and sauces – even as a dusting for pan-frying trout or other fish. (Just check out this fantastic recipe for Pan-fried Rainbow Trout with Chanterelle Mushrooms.)
Coming soon: Late spring foraging in the Western US. Stay tuned!