The day before Marion cooked these chanterelles in our Chicago kitchen, they were in a stall in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Not much more before that, they had been in a nearby forest. We were in the market on the last morning of our first visit to the Pacific Northwest. Our luggage was already overstuffed with food purchases, many in glass containers padded with laundry in the hope they would survive the flight home. But when we saw these mushrooms, we knew we had to squeeze some into our carry-on bags. I’ll turn the kitchen over to Marion now and let her tell you what she did with them.
In another earlier life, I used to gather chanterelles in the wild all summer. It was such an everyday thing that I took it totally for granted. It was part of the season, like swimsuits and the beach. I would be driving along some gravel country road through a spruce forest, and pull the car over, grab a bag or basket and walk around for 20 or 30 minutes until I had found enough.
Species of chanterelle grow across North America and Europe. Here in the Midwest, golden chanterelles are available in summer; in the Pacific Northwest, they fruit from about September to March. Closely related species may be gathered in Europe, too. They can’t be cultivated, so every chanterelle you see in a market has been foraged in the wild. Throughout their range, the best place to find them is under conifers. In Nova Scotia, I used to find them under spruce and hemlock. I hear that in some parts of North America, such as Texas and California, they associate with oaks.
Which reminds me to advise you to exercise caution whenever you are mushroom hunting – the chanterelle is very distinctive, but there are fairly similar species, such as the Jack o’Lantern, which can make you sick. And of course when you are wandering in the woods, pay attention to where you are – especially in the wide-open West, bring a compass, watch for landmarks, remain aware of your location and your footing, and avoid crossing into places where you can get into a jam.
The availability of chanterelles here in the Midwest is pretty modest. In the Pacific Northwest, it is easier to forage for them, or you can find them at farmers markets absolutely all over. (Sometimes even Costco sells them.) At Sosio’s Produce stand in Seattle's Pike Place Market, we paid about $11 a pound for these, which sounds like an awful lot, except that in the summer, when I saw some not very attractive dryish specimens at a farmers market here in Chicago, the price was $36 a pound. Wowser.
There are many, many ways to use these wonderful mushrooms. Roast them in olive oil with finely minced onion and sage. Sauté them with bacon and then add them to a frittata. Stuff them into ravioli. Use them in a simple sauce to serve alongside a roast chicken or bistro steaks. You can also dry them (gently, at about 145 degrees F. to 150 degrees F. in the oven, or in a very hot sunroom or garage). Pickle them. And once they are sautéed, you may freeze them and thaw later with only slight flavor loss.
Since it had been so long since we’ve had these wonderful mushrooms, we decided to go with a preparation that would be simple yet luxurious. And while the locally foraged chanterelles traveled with us from Seattle, the fresh sage came from our own backyard. When this dish is ready, it will be gorgeous, with the deep golden mushrooms, the pale golden sauce, the freckles of sage and black pepper and a rich, elegant aroma and flavor. It’s just beautiful.
Sautéed chanterelles with cream and linguine fini
Serves 3 to 4
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
8 ounces cream, divided
1 pound fresh chanterelles, torn lengthwise into pieces (see Kitchen Notes)
1-1/2 teaspoons fresh sage, finely minced
1/3 cup shallots, finely minced (one large shallot)
1/3 cup sherry
10 ounces linguine fini
Melt 3-1/2 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy skillet. When it is melted and spread evenly on the bottom of the pan, pour in the chopped shallot and chopped sage, stir and saute until the shallots are translucent – it should be about three to four minutes. Then add the mushrooms all at once. Stir them to evenly coat with the butter and the shallots.
At this point, start the water for the pasta.
Sauté the chanterelles over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until they release their liquid (it won’t be a huge amount of liquid, and it should take about 10 minutes for this to happen). When you see the liquid appear, salt lightly, grate pepper generously over the whole, and pour six ounces of the cream plus all the sherry into the mushrooms; stir, then let everything all simmer together gently for a little while. In an ideal world, the water will have come to a boil and you can now cook the pasta while the chanterelles meld nicely with the cream. The mushrooms will have shrunk pretty dramatically, and now the cream will cook down and turn a lovely gold color.
Put the remaining cream and butter into a small pan and heat it gently until the butter melts. Swirl it together.
When the pasta is done, rinse it in hot water. Add the cream-and-butter mixture to the sauce, stir and toss. To serve, put the pasta in a warm bowl, pour most of the mushrooms and sauce over it, and toss thoroughly with a pair of forks. Then plate and top with the remaining sauce, some handsome mushrooms and a generous grating of Parmesan, and serve.
The switch. You can use most any fresh mushrooms for this dish. They all will be yummy.
The scrub. To clean chanterelles, examine them and gently brush off any visible dirt. There shouldn’t be much. Also, chanterelles tend not to have insect infestations.
The choice. When choosing chanterelles at market, select those that look clean and whole and feel slightly moist and firm; they will have a slightly fruity aroma – some people compare it to apricots. Also the mushroom’s surface should look fairly smooth and not as if ravaged. If the only ones you can find feel paper-dry or look filthy, or have track-like marks, consider skipping them.
The heat. Always cook chanterelles before eating – don’t eat them raw, for instance on a salad. Some people are sensitive to raw chanterelles.
The cut. Don’t. When you are preparing them, don’t slice them with a knife – tear them lengthwise.
The shrink. When you cook them, don’t be alarmed, but they are going to shrink about 30 to 40 percent. That’s just what they do.
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