Golden Chanterelles: The Queen of the Forest
While the morel mushroom may be the best known wild mushroom in the United States, the is the chanterelle mushroom that is perhaps the most highly sought after mushroom around the world. Treasured on every continent where they are found, the delicious “Queen of the Forest,” unsurpassed in flavor, fragrance and texture, is always a welcome treat.
The chanterelle is a true wild mushroom. Never “tamed” by the hand of man, chanterelles continue to resist all efforts to cultivate them. If we are to enjoy this magnificent mushroom, it must be harvested by hand, exclusively in the wild. Though mild in flavor, chanterelles have that slight spicy edge which is so often characteristic of things that grow on their own in forests and fields – something that comes from competing in a natural environment.
There is a lot to like about chanterelles. The striking color of the beautiful trumpet-shaped chanterelle ranges from vibrant yellow to deep orange. They’re quite firm in texture with a wonderfully delicate aroma reminiscent of the forest floor. Their flavor is difficult to describe: fruity (some say they taste of apricots) and herbaceous with a slight peppery bite. The texture of the chanterelle is tender, yet quite firm even after cooking. It’s this combination of enticing aroma, earthy flavor and pleasing texture make them one of the most versatile of all the wild mushrooms.
While it doesn’t need any help in tasting good on its own, the chanterelle’s agreeable, but distinctive flavor pairs well with all sorts of ingredients. And though generally mild, the chanterelle can hold its own in just about any dish, even when paired with other strong flavors.
Foraging for Chanterelle Mushrooms
When in season, chanterelles can be very prolific and, if you live in the right part of the country, can be relatively easy to find. If you haven’t picked chanterelles before, we strongly advise you to learn with someone who is a reliable and experienced “mushroom hunter.” While chanterelles are quite distinctive in color and appearance, there are a few look-alikes that can cause very unpleasant gastric upsets. Never identify mushrooms from photos, guidebooks or the internet! It’s just not worth the risk. If you don’t know any mushroom hunters, seek out your local mycological society and find out about joining a foray. There are hundreds of well-organized mushroom-hunting societies across the country and most hold regular forays and mushroom hunts.
If possible, fresh chanterelles should be clean and (almost) dry to the touch. The aroma should be pleasantly fruity – like fresh apricots. Little bits of the woods (a pine needle or some moss) may be seen – just pick it out. These are from the woods, after all.
Chanterelle mushrooms store exceptionally well, and can last up to a week or even much longer when stored properly. Keep chanterelles in the refrigerator in a loosely closed brown paper bag or in a paper towel-lined cardboard box. While they may dry slightly around the edges, this will in no way harm their flavor or texture
Cleaning Fresh Chanterelles
Like other wild mushrooms, fresh chanterelles sometimes require a bit of cleaning before use. Depending on where they were found, chanterelles may be firm, dry and clean, requiring no more than a gentle brushing to remove forest debris. But chanterelles found late in the season are often more than a little muddy and require stronger measures. If your chanterelles are particularly dirty, rinse them quickly under cool running water, using a brush to help remove dirt or mud. Set them aside on paper towels or clean dish towels to drain before using. Only wash the amount of chanterelles that you plan to use immediately; wet mushrooms do not store well and will deteriorate rapidly.
Chanterelles are one of the most versatile of all wild mushrooms. They perform equally well when in a starring role or when paired together with other ingredients. No matter how you use them, their flavor and texture will shine through. Their basic preparation is simple; once they’re cleaned, slice or chop fresh chanterelles and use in your favorite recipe. To enjoy their unique flavor to the fullest, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large pan over medium high heat. When the butter is hot and begins to foam slightly, add the chanterelles and cook until almost all the liquid is reduced. Season with a little salt & pepper, then serve over thick slices of hot toasted bread. Enjoy!