( girolle (Fr.), pfifferling (Gr. refers to pepper), capo gallo (It.cock’s crest), dotterpilz (Gr.egg yolk mushroom), lisitjka (Rus.-fox mushroom), kuratko, (Cz.chick)The list is very long. . . which tells you just how widely loved they are. ) Cantharellus cibarius/ Cantharellus formosa
Perhaps we just love mushrooms too much. But, is there anything lovelier than vibrantly gold chanterelles sprinkled like fresh flowers over a carpet of chartreuse moss in a dark forest? Even after years and years of picking mushrooms, who could tire of such beauty?
In The French Laundry Cookbook, I was quoted as calling chanterelles “the workhorse of wild mushrooms”. Indeed it’s true. As well as beautiful, it is an immensely versatile mushroom. There is no wild mushroom more popular in America, or indeed Europe. The fall of the iron curtain and the ease of air cargo have made chanterelles available for about nine months. Chefs can now wallow in their fungal beauty most of the year.
The name chanterelle, encompasses many mushrooms in the Cantherellus genus: yellow foot, black trumpets, white chanterelles, “pig’s ears”, blue chanterelles, and others. Here, we mean the lovely standard golden chanterelle. Golden chanterelles are found around the world. This week a cab driver pulled over while I was unloading the truck. He was very excited. Pointing he said, “We love these in my country”. He was from Nigeria! Chanterelles can range from vibrant gold-orange, dime-sized, apricot jam smelling chanterelles of the logging skids of Montana, to the giant chanterelles of California’s coastal mountains. Our local chanterelles (soon to be called Cantharellus californicus) are the largest in the world, two pound specimens can be found.
If the chanterelles are very clean, a little brushing is all that’s necessary. If they are dirty, you MUST wash them. Forget all that nonsense about the flavor being washed away. People forget that the unclean chanterelle in your hand has taken from a week to three weeks (CA) to grow. In that time, it has bathed in inches of rain which has not washed its flavor away.
Wash the chanterelles hours, or ideally a day before you need them. Turn on the tap to a low flow, hold the mushroom under the water and brush lightly to clean with a new paintbrush. Put the cleaned mushrooms into a colander to drip until all are cleaned. Pour these clean mushrooms onto a rack or sheet pan lined with a towel. Put these by a fan or sunny window. Without these options, put them in your walk-in in front of the cooler’s fans. The goal is to be rid of the excess washing moisture and to return the now clean mushrooms to a “sauté-able” state. If you prefer dunking in the sink (not the best!) be sure to keep a skimming ladle on hand and skim off the floating debris often. Otherwise you are just lifting the clean mushroom up through debris which can coat it again.
Chanterelles have many marriage partners in their mycorrhizal state world-wide. Host trees vary from Sitka spruce on the Queen Charlottes, to Coastal live oaks in California. Check with your local mycological society or anyone with a French, German, Polish or Russian accent for host trees in your area.
Do nearly anything you like. There is no end to their versatility. Their subtle flavor is lost of course, if used with very heavy flavors or too many ingredients. It’s a great sautéing mushroom, but is also fabulous roasted, or grilled. Good Lord, the great Larry Stickney even makes chanterelle sorbet! European Chanterelles make delightful pickles. Find our very own Wineforest Cocktail Chanterelles in the online retail pantry store. If you are forced to cook with wet (heaven forbid) chanterelles, roasting away the water or cooking in a sauté pan until the moisture boils off, can be required if you end up with poorly prepped mushrooms. See Cleaning to avoid the soggy, poached chanterelle nightmare.
The vast majority of chanterelles appearing in restaurants are either from Europe(C. cibarius) or the Pacific N.W.(C. formosa).
Europe: (summer) Sadly, we must admit that as a group, these chanterelles have more of the apricot skin aroma, than our hemisphere’s. They are generally smaller in size as well. The main source countries are: Turkey, the Balkan states, Russia, Poland, and the Baltic republics. Scotland has some of the finest of all, but little is exported. Turkish and Bulgarian are often dirty and can have worm problems.
USA: (September-November) Oregon and Washington state are the sources of almost all American chanterelles. These are now classified as Cantherellus formosa, meaning “beautiful”. These often have a subtle hint of salmon pink evident when first picked, and faint scale-like marking on the cap. The texture is arguably meatier than the European. Small amounts are available from Louisiana.
Canada: (August-September) To my mind, Canada has the best chanterelles in the world. Not only does the moss-covered ground allow them to grow up sparkling clean in some provinces, but they have great color, texture and aroma. Nova Scotia’s are small, very aromatic, clean but can be prone to worms. Saskatchewan (my favorite) are so uniform, they can look like they are extruded from a pasta maker. The Queen Charlotte Islands can have huge years of sturdy clean beautiful chanterelles. Vancouver Island is probably the least desirable of these great choices.
Perhaps no mushroom has the shelf life of chanterelles. If protected from drying out in the cooler they can be gorgeous for two weeks. If there is a special bargain to be had- don’t hesitate-buy and store them. Their life can be months long if roasted and processed confit style and refrigerated.
They should be both clean (minimal dirt & virtually no needles) and adequately dry. A squeezed stem should yield little or no liquid. There are lengthy rain periods in the N.W. that defeat even my racks and dehumidifying efforts, however. It is a delicate balance between too dry (oxidation & browning) and too wet. There must be some moisture for color and shelf life in your cooler.