Over twenty-five years ago, the man that was to become my husband drove four and a half hours to come visit me down in Eugene, Oregon. It was our first real weekend together and of course I wanted to impress him with a fancy dinner. I don’t remember exactly what I made, except that the main dish was scallops and I soon learned he didn’t care for seafood, but he was a trooper and ate every last bite.
What was most memorable to me about that meal; however was what he brought with him…chanterelles. I had never heard of or tasted them before, but he told me that his dad always sautéed them in butter and garlic, so that is exactly what I did. As I result I fell in love with two things that weekend, the man I was to marry and the best mushroom I had ever tasted. The love affair continues today with both my husband and chanterelles.
Jim is a hunter and here in the Northwest, chanterelle season happens to coincide with deer/elk hunting season, so even when he did not bring home meat, there was always a big bag of mushrooms. And after awhile, the mushrooms were what I really cared about. Finally, I convinced him to take me mushroom hunting with him and I was hooked. The funny thing is that the best mushroom hunting is when it is wet and rainy and somehow it doesn’t even matter. The thrill of spotting a patch of mushrooms under a light covering of pine needles is exhilarating and somewhat addictive.
The first year that we came home with over 10 pounds of mushrooms, I had to try and figure out how to preserve them since I knew I wanted them in my Thanksgiving stuffing. I tried drying them since that is the only form I had ever seen them in before. I put them in a dehydrator and packaged them up for use at a later time. When ready to use, I simply re-hydrated in hot water and proceeded. The results were so-so. The texture was off when re-hydrated and I didn’t love them.
The next year I froze them after cleaning and again, I wasn’t very happy with the results. Mushrooms in general have a very high water content so they just didn’t hold up well when frozen without cooking as it alter the texture.
Finally, I had the brilliant idea to partially cook them in butter and garlic and freeze. Bingo! The magic method. Now, I partially cook them in a little butter, olive oil and garlic, cool and freeze. When ready to use, throw them in a medium high frying pan and sauté until all of the moisture has evaporated and the edges of the mushrooms are browned and slightly crisp. They taste as close to fresh as I have been able to achieve. You may wish to add a bit more butter or salt when sautéeing depending on how you plan to use them.
Since chanterelles can only be harvested in the wild and tend to grow under a carpet of leaves and needles, they do require a fair amount of cleaning and attention to end up with a product you can actually cook with. After many years or trial and error, here are the steps I take to handle mine.
#1 – Cleaning: This can 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, needles and other debris. Sometimes it is necessary to section portions of larger mushrooms to get at the foreign material. Use a toothbrush or a nylon mushroom 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. Arrange in a single layer on paper towels to drain.
#2 – Drying: It is a good idea to let the chanterelles air dry overnight before cooking. The idea here is simply to let any excess water that was absorbed during cleaning evaporate before proceeding to cook.
#3 – Chopping: Cut them into good sized chunks, you can use most of the stem, so simply cut off the woody tip and any bad parts. This is a good point to check again for any debris or needles be discarding before proceeding to cook.
#4 – Partially Cooking: In a heavy pan, heat a couple of tablespoons butter with the same amount of olive oil over medium high, add a single layer of mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring only after the first 2 minutes. At this point, most of the liquid should begin evaporating, and you can add minced garlic if desired and kosher salt. Cook for another 5 minutes, remove from heat and let cool completely. If processing a large amount of mushrooms, work in batches and transfer each batch to a bowl or cookie sheet until completed. Wipe pan after each batch before adding next amount of butter and oil.
#5 – Freezing: Transfer cooled chanterelles to zip lock freezer bags in one or two cup portions. Flatten bags so you have a single layer of mushrooms. This is handy for stacking in the freezer and also prevents excess frost from accumulating.
#6 – Thaw & Enjoy: Thaw completely, put entire contents of bag into pan over medium high heat and sauté for 5 – 10 minutes or until lightly browned and slightly crisp on edges. Taste and adjust seasoning. Try adding a tablespoon of minced shallot while sautéeing and splash of white wine to in final minutes to deglaze pan.
Chanterelle recipes coming soon! In the meantime, sauté with butter, garlic, salt and spoon on top of a piece of grilled bread spread with goat cheese.