There’s gold lurking in the late summer forest and woodlands; and it’s in the form of fabulous flushes of chanterelle mushrooms. These gorgeous golden treats flush and flourish best during the warm wet days of late summer.
Chanterelles, often called chanties, go hand in hand with squirrel season in many areas. Many a squirrel hunter has returned home not only with a nice bundle of bushy tails for the roaster, but also a bag of these bright yellow, delicate mushrooms that complement the wild game that’s available this time of year. Mother Nature does a great job of providing us with just the right mushroom for whatever game or fish is being harvested at that particular time, and chanterelles are no exception. Not only do chanterelles pair well with eggs, fish, chicken, and pork; they are equally well suited to doves, squirrel, and early season teal. Their delicate flavor however, is often overpowered by darker, heavier, red meats.
This fleshy wild mushroom, with a delicate apricot/peachy/fruit like scent fairly glows with golden or orange light when seen from a distance in deep green of the forest. Also known as “golden chanterelle” and “egg mushroom,” it is a highly prized and sought after fungi for many foodies across the country.
Most yellow/golden chanterelles found east of the Mississippi will average about the size of a fist. The black and orange varieties however are usually much smaller, more thumb and finger sized. For our lucky friends who live the western portions of the United States, finds as large as two hand spans—and weighing as much as two pounds are not uncommon. This year’s cooler and wetter than usual August has graced many of us in the Midwest with some exceptional flushes and some specimens that will rival the west coast fungi-philes big finds.
Chanterelles equal gold in more ways than one. If bought on the open market, their price is certainly gold worthy, their color is golden, and the taste is referred to a golden by many as well.
Generally speaking chanterelles begin making an appearance in late July and often will produce several flushes before frost arrives. Most often they are found scattered in groups near the roots of hardwood trees (especially oak), and scattered throughout the understory in wooded areas. For those who shudder at the thought of trooping through a thick, muggy, buggy late summer woods chanterelles are also are easily found along trail edges, sparing foragers that mosquito and spider ridden machete needed, trek through thick woods. They thrive in deep, old leaf litter. Often if one locates them along natural waterway, the flush will follow the damp run off line down a hillside or along a creek edge. Thankfully, chanterelles are not prone to the same insect infestations and forest creature munching as other fungi.
I cannot stress enough that when gathering wild mushrooms one MUST be certain of identification prior to eating. There are a few species that can be mistaken for chanterelles to the untrained eye, and these will indeed cause you some sever gastric upset. Use a good field guide and have an experienced mushroom hunter or someone knowledgeable about wild fungi check your initial finds before consuming. I have disappointed many a person with a bag full of jack o lantern mushrooms who thought they had just made a huge chanterelle find.
Chanterelles are yellow mushroom, with a fleshy cap, that displays wavy, rounded cap margins tapering downward to meet the stem. A key factor in identification is the appearance of the gills. The gills are not the usual thin straight panels hanging from the lower surface of the cap, as is common in most cap style mushrooms, but rather they are more ridged like, appearing somewhat rounded, blunt, shallow, and widely spaced. At the edge of the cap they are forked and interconnected. The gills also run down the stem rather than being confined to just the cap. The gillaraangement is such that it doesn’t even seem that the chanterelles have a cap and stem, but rather look much like a one solid vase like object from the underside.
Always harvest chanterelles with care. If you follow simple guidelines, like as not you can harvest chanterelles from the same spot a few more times before frost and for years to come, as they routinely reappear in the same places year after year. Most importantly, do not disturb the ground in which the mycelium (the vegetative part of the mushroom) grows. No tromping and stomping in the chantie patches! Unlike the harvesting of other mushrooms where it is recommended to cut the stem, leaving the stem in the ground – chanterelles should be pulled from the soil and then neatly trimmed to prevent dirt and debris from ending up in your mushroom basket. The reason for this different method of harvesting is that the cut stems are often vulnerable to a type of infection that can then invade the mycelium and potentially wipe out an entire patch.
This can occasionally be a chore. Chanterelles grow exuberantly. The cap margins fold tightly to form crevices from which it is difficult to dislodge debris. The caps grow around twigs and brambles. Sometimes it is necessary to section portions of larger specimens to get at the foreign material. Use a toothbrush or a vegetable brush to whisk away any surface material. In order to clean small particles of sand or dirt caught between the rounded gills, you must brush them under a slowly running faucet. Do not soak them. In general, the less water the better. Drain them on paper towels. They keep well if allowed to remain in a waxed paper or brown paper bag in the refrigerator until they are cleaned. However, cleaned chanterelles may also be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. They should be loosely arranged in a bowl lined with cloth or paper towels and covered lightly with a dish towel.
Cut them into chunks of a generous size, so that the maximum amount of flavor can be appreciated. Chanterelles are meaty and chewy. One of the best ways to cook them is to slice and sauté them in butter. Cream, half and half, and chicken broth all make good additions. Chanterelles bake well and retain their flavor after long cooking.
Very few people eat chanterelles raw. They are very peppery and tummy upsetting when consumed raw, and they can make some people very ill. In any case, their flavor is best appreciated when they are thoroughly cooked.
Freeze chanterelles in recipe sized containers after sautéing with butter. When defrosted, they will retain most of their flavor. Dried chanterelles tend lose some of the delicate flavor that only fresh chanterelles possess, and often if dried improperly the texture can become a bit chewy and rubbery. Dried chanterelles are best used in sauce, stews, and soups, especially when utilizing the flavorful water that comes with constitution as part of the recipe.
One of my most favorite ways to use Chanterelles is in a frittata. It makes for a quick and easy supper after a day afield or a sumptuous and elegant breakfast treat.
8 large eggs, beaten (six large duck eggs can be substituted – making an even richer frittata)
1/2 Cup chopped scallions/green onions tops included
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon or summer savory
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound chanterelle mushrooms, sliced (note if your chanterelles are small the can be simply halved
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup shredded Fontina or Gruyère cheese
NOTE: you can certainly substitute the variety of cheese or herb that you use to suit your particular favorite tastes.
Preheat the oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the chopped tarragon. In a large, nonstick ovenproof skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the chanterelle mushrooms and chopped scallions, season with salt and pepper and cook them over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned, about 8 minutes.
While the mushrooms are sizzling away, whisk together the eggs, herbs, and ¼ cup of the grated cheese.
When mushrooms are and scallions are lightly browned, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet. Add the egg mixture and cook until he egg mixture begins to set at the edges, (This only takes a minute or so) Using a spatula, lift an edge and tilt the pan, allowing the uncooked eggs to seep underneath. Cook until the bottom is set, about 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake the frittata for about 8 minutes, until fluffy and set. Allow frittata to cool and fully set for just a few minutes then cut into wedges and serve.