There’s nothing better than a stroll in the woods, especially when there’s treasure underfoot.
Forager Steve Fick figures it’s simple: if you want to harvest wild mushrooms, learn their habitat.
In the Tillamook State Forest, where sun and shadow dance through the towering Douglas fir trees, Fick’s well-trained eyes are fixed down close to the ground where there’s a culinary reward.
“Ohhh, there we are — chanty number one — that guy right there, just waiting to be cut,” exclaims Fick with a hearty laugh.
He uses a sharp short-bladed pocket knife to cut the chanterelle free from the ground and said it’s their taste that brings him back each October: “Chanterelles have a golden-orange hue and their chalice shape makes them easy to spot — but their true allure is a woodsy flavor that’s hard to resist.”
The gorgeous fungi has been Oregon’s official state mushroom since 1999.
But chanterelles are not the only mushrooms in the forest. In fact, there are dozens of other mushrooms that grow here and “most are none too friendly to people and many are downright dangerous.”
“When you’re doing it without knowledge, there’s no reason to take any chances,” said Fick. “I learned an old saying long ago: There are old mycologists and there are bold mycologists, but there are no old, bold mycologists.”
Fick cleans approximately one pound of chanterelles — he never washes them in water, rather he prefers to clean them off with a soft rag or brush — and then it is time to head indoors to the kitchen.
We are joined by Fick’s longtime friend and chef Preston Van Hook who has worked in fine white-linen restaurants across the region and says he loves the down home taste of the Oregon chanterelle.
He proceeds to trim off the stems from 20 medium-sized chanterelles for the first of three recipes that he prepared for a small group of friends who gathered at my home to watch Chef Van Hook prepare a meal based upon his favorite chanterelle recipes.
Chef Van Hook begins his Recipe #1, Stuffed Chanterelles, by lining each mushroom cap upside down on a cookie sheet.
Meanwhile, Fick brings out a salmon carcass or “frame” and uses a small teaspoon to scrape nearly a pound of fresh salmon from the bones of the carcass.
“Nothing goes to waste,” says Fick with a smile.
Van Hook then mixes the salmon with one 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 3 finely sliced green onions and 1 teaspoon each of oregano and thyme and a 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese.
Fick places the cookie sheet into a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.
Next is Recipe #2, Warm Spinach Salad with Chanterelle-based Vinaigrette.
Van Hook roughly chops two cups of chanterelles: “I do this rough chop with the mushrooms so they are forkable.”
In addition, he finely chops 1 medium-sized shallot and 3 strips of bacon, saying, “You can’t go wrong with bacon and chanterelles!”
Approximately 1 pound of the wild chanterelles hit the frying pan with a “bounce, sizzle and snap – “Chanterelles are one of those things the really depend upon a hot pan,” adds Fick.
When the mushrooms are nearly done, he adds 1 cup of sherry vinegar and ½ cup of water and warms the mixture until it was hot.
“I’ve some big beautiful parsley here that I will chop and add near the end of the cooking time, along with a small amount of lemon juice,” says Van Hook.
The hot vinaigrette is poured over a huge bowl of fresh spinach leaves give the salad a fine wilted look and a delicious smell.
Meanwhile, Fick places 2 chinook salmon filets go on a hot BBQ grill.
The salmon is the base for Recipe #3, Salmon with Chanterelle Duxelles.
Van Hook explains that the French Duxelles is a finely chopped (minced) mixture of mushrooms or mushroom stems, onions, shallots and herbs sautéed in butter. It is a basic preparation used in stuffing and sauces or as a garnish.
Van Hook sautées 2 cups of chopped chanterelles and adds a minced medium-sized shallot and 4 cloves of minced garlic.
He adds ½ cup of heavy cream to complete the duxelles that was topped with a sprinkle of chopped thyme and fresh parsley.
At last, the sauce is poured over the top of the two cooked salmon filets, completing an amazing chanterelle feast!
“Dinner is served,” says the beaming chef who was clearly proud of his three distinct presentations.
The eager diners are excited and toast the chef.
The stuffed chanterelles are the bomb,” comments diner Kerry Harsin.
His wife, Sue Harsin, adds, “I love the salmon with chanterelle sauce — it’s a little bit of heaven.”
Liz Jordan chimes in, “I’ve never tried a stuffed chanterelle with salmon — it is yummy!”
Diner Leslee Sipp exclaims, “I give this dinner a five-star rating! Everything about these recipes is delicious and really simple to prepare. The chanterelles are delicious!”
Fick and Van Hook are flattered by the reviews, but VanHook insisted, this is what Oregon is all about: “I think in Oregon all around, we are just spoiled with the bounty you can harvest from the forest, or the rivers or the sea — we’re really lucky that we can go out and tromp around and feed our family too.”
Fick adds that the meals that you contribute to are the most rewarding — that is, the ones connecting you and tie you to the source of your food: “There’s something exciting and magical that comes about when you find it and prepare it and when you share it with friends and family. I don’t think it can get much better.”
The Oregon Department of Forestry allows you to harvest up to one gallon of wild mushrooms on state forestlands, but any more than that, you are considered a commercial picker and must buy the $100 permit at any state forestry office.
Fick stresses critical safety points if you choose to head into the forest at this time of year. First, pick only mushrooms that you know are safe. If you don’t know go with someone who is experienced and does know or take a mushroom ID class. (He suggests the Cascade Mycological Society.)
He also suggests that mushroom hunters who are in unfamiliar territory stay close to the road and never out of earshot of the road traffic.