I’ve already described at length my love for mushrooms, as well as my love for eating stuff I find near my house. Combined, these two loves of mine have birthed this summer’s obsession: chanterelle foraging. It’s fun, easy and tasty- and besides the two ticks I’ve accumulated wading in waist-deep grasses, I have yet to find a downside.
8 STEPS TO CHANTERELLE FORAGING AND EATING!
STEP 1: Ask yourself where you are.
You can find chanterelles if you live in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa or Australia- but of course you need the correct climate and vegetation, so it’s good to do some research and ask around where the prime areas are. Don’t expect anyone to reveal specific spots – it’s highly coveted and often top-secret info, but at least find out if there’s a nearby region with the right conditions.
Keep in mind that different species of chanterelle grow throughout the world- I’m living in Europe, currently finding the deep yellow girolle variety. Other types will share many similar characteristics but I am sure there are also plenty of variations (in the Pacific Northwest, for example, they’re apparently much bigger). It’s best to go foraging first with an expert or even just someone who’s been before, as there are a few species that look similar to chanterelle but which can make you sick. If you’re not sure about a mushroom, don’t eat it!
STEP 2: GET TOTALLY EXCITED
Now that you know there’s a chance you’ll find chanterelles, you should be totally stoked. Why? Chanterelles are a great mushroom to forage, especially for beginners. They’re brightly-colored with a distinctive appearance. Once you’ve been shown a few of them, you’ll recognize them easily, and they often stand out in stark contrast to the vegetation around them so they’re easy to spot. At least where I live, the chanterelles seem to have very few predators; they’re rarely eaten by worms, insects or animals, so they’re usually in great condition. Scientists have suggested that chanterelles may have insecticidal properties that protect them against pests yet that are harmless for us.
Of course, the main reason to get excited about finding chanterelles is that they’re so good to cook and eat. They have an amazing, deep meaty flavor that makes simple dishes explode with flavor. They have a brilliant texture that never seems to get soggy with cooking. They’re healthy, too; low in carbohydrates, calories, and sodium, and free of fat, but packed with protein, vitamin C, vitamin D (of which it’s one of the highest sources yet known), vitamins B1, B2, and B3, minerals and anti-oxidant stuff. Furthermore, if you find chanterelles you can feel happy about the price; since they can’t be domesticated, they are only available in the wild and are therefore super expensive (and dried out and gross-looking) in the supermarket (for more information about why they can’t be domesticated, read my other post about mushrooms).
STEP 3: WAIT FOR THE RIGHT DAY
Ok, I know you’re excited, but you might need to wait until the conditions make sense. Like other mushrooms, chanterelles depend on moisture to grow, so you won’t have much success in the middle of a drought. Wait until there’s been some rain, and it warms up and gets sunny again. Also, depending on where you live, make sure it’s chanterelle season. This could mean that it’s a rainy season or that it’s the summer season. Here we forage these bright yellow summertime ones from July to September.
STEP 4: GET DRESSED UP ALL AWESOME AND COLLECT YOUR TOOLS
You’ll be wandering around in the forest, so bring whatever you’d want to have while wandering around in the forest. To me, this means big boots, long pants (to avoid the ticks) and water. Others might want a compass or a map or gps or first aid kit or emergency blanket or something but around here it’s so densely populated that I know I won’t get lost.
In terms of mushroom foraging tools, all you really need is a knife and a bag/ basket. Don’t use plastic bags. They hold moisture and make your mushrooms go bad sooner, and according to one of my Swiss friends, they negatively affect the taste. I sometimes use a canvas bag or a nerdy wooden basket. I take whatever knife I can find but I prefer my foldable pocket-sized Opinel or my awesome mushroom knife with a brush on the end of it so I can clean the mushrooms as I go.
STEP 5: WANDER AROUND THE FOREST
Here, I look for shady areas with an abundance of low bushes and moss.But you may want to look for something totally different near where you live. My research says they grow most often in mossy coniferous forests, mountain birch forests, among grasses and low-growing herbs, and (in Europe) beech forests. To learn what to look out for, go hunting with a friend who knows or call up your local mushroom club/ mycological society and ask.
Walk around and look out below. If you’re on a slope, it’s easier to find mushrooms walking uphill. Keep your eyes open for even the slightest hint of yellow or orange color; sometimes they might be hiding under some grass or leaves. Small chanterelles will be rounded and firm and just barely, if at all, sticking out of the ground. Larger ones will form more of a trumpet shape, and you’ll be able to see the ridges which taper down from their cap.
Step 6: Harvest
I’ve heard a range of opinions as to how many mushrooms you should take. One of my friends here tends to take all of the mushrooms she finds, as she believes that they don’t last longer than a day anyway. Mycologist Paul Stamets, on the other hand, says in his awesome book that he’s only takes 25% of the chanterelles as a way to ensure the long-term sustainability of the patch. He also says that most of the time, chanterelles grow in pairs of two, and it’s better to take only the larger of the two. This allows the smaller one (which is even sometimes hidden underground) a better chance of growing, sporulating, and spreading. In sum, if you’re worried about preventing degradation of the patch, be conscious of how many you’re taking, especially if you’ve already found plenty of them. You’ll have a better chance of finding more the next time you return.
Use your knife to cut the mushrooms just above the base where they peek out of the ground. Supposedly, leaving the base intact improves the chances that a mushroom will grow again here.
Step 7: Clean Mushrooms
Cleaning the chanterelles is kind of laborious. There’s usually little pieces of dirt stuck in the gills. If you have a fancy shrooming knife or you bring a toothbrush along, you can clean the mushrooms as you go, or you can just do it when you get home. Brushing them is good because you don’t want to bog them down with too much water; especially if you’re going to save them for a couple days, water will make them slippery and old and just gross.
Some say you shouldn’t put them in water at all because they’ll lose their flavor, but we gave them a little bath / shower in our sink before brushing them to speed up the cleaning process, and they were delicious as ever. Just be sure to let them dry before you store them somewhere. Get them as clean as you feel comfortable; it’s tough to get them 100% clean and remember, a teeeeeeeeny bit of dirt probably won’t kill you.
Step 8: Cook and EAT
Don’t eat these raw. I don’t think anyone likes that. If you want, you can freeze them or pickle them. You can maybe dry them (some say they aren’t good dried, some say they are). You can even use them to infuse vodka. Hank Shaw wrote a piece about some of these preservation methods which is worth checking out. I’ve been wondering if I could use them to make some sort of mushroom broth/bouillon. Has anyone done this? I haven’t found any information about it online.
But chanterelles are really best, I think, when you just sauté them and eat them simply. Some prefer a dry sauté, in which you cook them in a covered pan without liquid or fat and just allow the water inside the mushrooms to soak out. I sauté them in butter and/or oil to release the many delicious fat-soluble flavor compounds. They also have alcohol-soluble flavor compounds, so I like to add white or red wine at some point. Salt, pepper, maybe some fresh thyme, and you have yourself delicious, uncomplicated chanterelles.
Last time I made this simple sauté into a pasta sauce. I just added some sliced-in-half cherry tomatoes and some cream, threw in some pappardelle and then parmesan and it was so, so good; I still can’t believe how meaty and delicious this vegetarian dish was, and it’s all because of my wonderful chanterelles. I <3 u guyz.