When fall arrives and it’s chanterelle mushroom season, it’s time to slow down, set your sites low and search the forest floor for these beautiful and tasty wild gems. For advice on hunting and cooking the elusive fungi, I talked to Leather Storrs, mushroom sleuth and chef at Noble Rot in Portland.
What is the best time to look for chanterelles?
About a week after significant rainfall in autumn. The last week in September, all of October and into November, provided there’s no hard frost.
What kind of environment do chanterelles thrive in?
I usually find them under bigger conifers. Good understory indicators include moss, Oregon grape & vine maple.
Where can you find them in Oregon?
The Coast Range, both sides, and in the Columbia River Gorge.
Can you offer some tips on hunting?
Stay low and turn around frequently. Sometimes it’s all about the vantage point. Other mushrooms often suggest the environment is right.
How about storage? How soon do you want to use them?
I store chanterelles in the fridge in a shallow layer, covered by a dishcloth (not a lid). They are best fresh but will keep for four days, depending on moisture content. Wet mushrooms degrade faster.
What makes them so good?
The thrill of the hunt is the best seasoning, but I like them for their nutty, earthy taste with a hint of apricot. When cooked hot, quickly and in small batches, the flavor takes on a toasty quality and the texture has a terrific, short fiber “snap.”
Why do Oregon chefs get so excited about chanterelles?
Besides being delicious, Chanterelles are the most plentiful of our Oregon mushrooms, so they are the least expensive while still having that wild cache. They lend themselves to myriad applications, and they are beautiful. Most chefs I know love hunting for them because the reward can be so astonishing.
How do you like to prepare them?
It’s important to keep their texture firm, I think, so I advocate small batches in a screaming hot pan with a tiny bit of oil. After the mushrooms hit the pan, season them with salt and pepper and don’t touch them. After one minute, toss them gently or stir them around.Cook for one minute more. The pan should always sizzle. If the sound goes away, you’ve added too many mushrooms or it’s not hot enough. When each batch is done, and it out onto a sheet pan.
Once I’ve quick cooked what I need, I might sweat some shallots and thyme in butter, add minced garlic, the mushrooms, parsley, a nut of butter and a squirt of lemon juice. That’s a classic group of mushroom seasonings, which supports the flavor without overwhelming it.
Storrs said he was looking forward to foraging for mushrooms with a group of his chef friends. “It is a very restorative thing for me. It is a nice way to get back into my thinking about food.”
From the Willamette Valley, another Oregon chef shares his chanterelle passion with this quick and delicious recipe.
Chanterelle Fried Rice
From Matt Bennett, owner and chef at Sybaris in Albany
1/2 pound chanterelles, cleaned and sliced
2 Tablespoons chopped garlic
1 Tablespoon chopped ginger
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems sliced fine and leaves chopped
2 cups cold, cooked rice
1/4 cup soy sauce
Heat a wok over high heat. Add enough canola oil to film the pan. Add mushrooms and stirfry to wilt. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant. Stir in chard stems and cook until just tender. Add rice, all the while stirring. Let rice toast a bit. Stir in chard leaves and soy sauce. Cook 30 seconds more. This is awesome with a fried egg on top or a great side dish for almost anything.
Editor’s note: read more about Matt Bennett’s journey to building a tasty empire in small town Albany here.