20 August 2013

Ode to Chanterelles

There is almost nothing in the world better than the smell of chanterelles.  So how best to eat them?  Let them be chanterelles and serve with a good risotto in the supporting role.

The gold colour of chanterelles pops against the moss of the forest floor; once you've found your first patch, you are likely to spot another cluster while harvesting some from the first.

Risotto with Chanterelles

Ingredients for the risotto dish, including (top) wild-
harvested chanterelles, (middle) garlic from the garden
and wild-picked juniper berries, and (bottom) the all
important dry vermouth.
serves 4

for the risotto

3 c. chicken stock + 1 c. water
1 bay leaf (optional)
3 tbsp olive oil
3 slices proscuitto, cut crosswise into thin strips
3 wild juniper berries, slightly crushed (or substitute commercial juniper berries)
1 c. arborio rice
3/4 c. dry vermouth
1 c. (loose), apprx. 30 g, grated sovrano cheese (or other hard white italian cheese, though something with a strong flavour like asiago might compete too strongly with the chanterelles)

for the mushrooms

1 tbsp olive oil
450 g fresh chanterelles, brushed clean, trimmed of bruises, and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 clove garlic, minced

You may have heard risotto is tricky or difficult or a meal best ordered in a restaurant because you could never do it right.  Put all of that out of your head.  Risotto requires some patience, but is otherwise very simple.

In a saucepan, combine chicken stock and water (if you didn't use a bay leaf when making your chicken stock, add one to the pot).  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to just above a simmer.  Put oil for mushrooms in a cast iron skillet, place on a cold burner.

In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan or dutch oven, heat olive oil on med-high (err slightly toward med).  Add proscuitto and juniper berries; sautee until ham is just crispy.  Add the arborio rice and stir until all the oil is absorbed.  Add vermouth and stir until all the liquid is abosorbed.  Add hot broth, a ladle at a time, stirring between additions until all the liquid is absorbed.

When the rice begins to take on a creamy consistency and the individual grains look very plump start testing your rice for done-ness. It should taste cooked and be mostly soft with a slight bite left to it.  If it hurts your teeth to chew, it isn't done, but stop cooking before it loses all it's resistance.  Keep adding broth and stirring it in until the rice is done.  

Turn the heat on to the higher end of med-high under your mushroom skillet.  Remove risotto from heat, quickly stir in the cheese, cover and let rest until the mushrooms are done.

Put the mushrooms into the heated oil and don't touch them until they have released their liquid and most of the liquid has evaporated.  Feel free to stand with your face above the pan inhaling the incredible aroma of the mushrooms.  For safety, I might suggest you use your hands to waft the scent toward you.  Either way, use the don't-interfere-with-the-mushrooms time to bask in incredible fragrance of the chanterelles.  Add garlic, stir the mushrooms to turn them and finish cooking.  They're done when all the liquid is gone and garlic smells cooked (but not burnt).

Very possibly caribougrrl's favourite meal.  Fefe Noir is not a big fan of rice, but even she enjoys this risotto.
Serve sauteed mushrooms over risotto.  Carefully remove the juniper berries from the risotto when serving, or, for a more casual atmosphere, advise your guests to avoid them.


Collecting Chanterelles

When we were still fairly new in Newfoundland, Fefe was fortunate to have a friend who came from a long line of chanterelle-gatherers.  Our first taste of these mushrooms came as a very generous gift from Mme. Fun-Gal. 

Many of us have grown up being terrified by wild mushrooms.  Don't eat that, it might be poisonous!  If you don't know what you're doing, mushrooms can kill you!  And though that's true, it's also fear-mongering.  Find someone who does know what they're doing, and beg them to teach you.  Agree to be blindfolded on the way to their mushrooming spots if necessary.  And here's why:  although you probably think (and technically you are right about this) that you can live happily without wild mushrooms, you may not know how much happier wild mushrooms will make you.  Especially the chanterelle.  Oh, the chanterelle. 

In the interest of full disclosure, my wild mushroom experience is currently limited to morels and chanterelles.  And morels are delicious.  But chanterelles are spellbinding.  Probably because of their close association with living trees, they have a fragrance and taste of the woods... not earthy grounded stuff, the subtle smell and taste of the sun-warmed air of the forest.  Less poetically, the smell has also been described in field guides as similar to apricot or apricot pits.

Most guides and websites I've looked at suggest chanterelles are one of the best mushrooms for novice mushroom-hunters.  Before you start searching, check if there are dangerous look-alikes in your area and be sure you know what you are doing (as suggested earlier, if you don't know what you are doing, make a pest of yourself until someone who does agrees to show you).

Chanterelles are always found around living trees, they do not grow from rotting logs.  The stem and cap are continuous, not separated, so the gills stretch from the edges of the underside of the cap down the stem.  (Okay, they aren't true gills, but the gill-like folds.)  Mature chanterelles are trumpet shaped with undulating tops and wavy edges; immature chanterelles are smoother edged and flat-topped.  If you tear a chanterelle, you will be able see that it would shred easily.  If you aren't yet convinced, smell them.

In this part of Newfoundland, we've found them in dense, damp (but not water-saturated) balsam fir-dominated forest stands, starting mid-August-ish for 2-3 weeks.  If you look across the forest floor, the bright golden colour leaps out at your eyes.  You just need to spot one patch and then when you are there, squat down to ground level, chances are good you'll spot another patch, then another.  In what feels like no time at all, you'll have a few pounds worth.

Chanterelles are incredibly charismatic mushrooms.  Note the gills fusing with the stem rather than being contained completely in the cap.
The advice on whether to cut or pull is inconsistent, so we do a bit of both.  We also leave far more behind than we pick.  

Take them home as soon as possible, and let them air dry on paper for a few minutes just to lose any surface moisture.  These will keep for a week (maybe longer; but not in our house) in a brown paper bag in the vegetable drawer of the fridge.  Don't clean them until you use them, and when you do clean them, don't use water.  Remove debris with a soft brush and cut out any bruised or stubbornly dirty spots.

If you are still feeling shy and uncertain about hunting mushrooms, or you just can't get to them, have no fear.  From what I gather by seeing chanterelles for sale locally and perusing the miracle of the internet, you can let someone else do the scary work and (instead of getting them for free plus the sweat on your brow) you can purchase these for $15-45 per pound. Farmers markets and specialty stores are good sources for chanterelles in season.  Specialty shops likely carry them dried or frozen out of season too, but that kind of spoils the fun: part of the enchantment is the brief period of availability and the long stretch of the year where you can only fantasize about next season.

A quick note about wild juniper berries:  Similar to mushrooms, this is a berry you've likely heard over and over again is poisonous, don't eat it.  From what I have read, it seems it can give you some really nasty digestive problems if eaten in great quantities, but it is perfectly safe to use in small quantities.  Like a seasoning for this risotto.  But act with the usual cautions you take, particularly if you are pregnant or your health is compromised or you are a worrier.  For what it's worth, I used some in this risotto, both of us ate it, neither of us became ill.  Assuming you know how to identify juniper, choose the fully mature berries which are dark blue in colour, not the young white or white-ish green ones.

Ode to Chanterelles on Punk Domestics

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