Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chanties Chanties Everywhere


The chanterelle. Despite its romantic twirl off the tongue, you'd think it was practically domesticated—an off-the-shelf French floozy Halloween costume. Is there an A-list wild mushroom that gets less respect, after all, than the chanty? Like an over-exposed model, it has the faint whiff of "been there done that." Well, I for one wouldn't kick a golden chanterelle out of bed for eating Cheez-Its!

Their fruity nose of apricots is unique in the fungal kingdom, and that fruitiness carries over into taste. Though earthy like other wild mushrooms, the chanterelle's flavor is reminiscent of orchards and vineyards and other more civilized habitats. In my neck of the woods they're without a doubt the most common of the wild mushrooms, gracing even the shelves of the local Safeway.

But don't be fooled. Though common, chanterelles are not always an easy find, and their singular flavor and aroma can transform many a dish from pedestrian to sublime, in particular any dish with bacon in it. Something about the union of fruity chanterelle with the essence of pig is a marriage made in culinary heaven.

How do you find chanterelles, you ask? I can't speak for other parts of the country, but in the Pacific Northwest young stands of Douglas fir are your best bet. This means a trip to logging country, where you'll pass miles of unsightly clearcuts before finding that perfect stand of 10 to 40-year-old tree farm Doug-firs where chanties thrive. This is not my favorite sort of mushroom hunting. The forest is dense, damp, and dark—and usually a boring monoculture. But if you can manage to find a patch of woods that hasn't been visited by a commercial forager you'll find the green moss carpeted with golden fungal goblets. These are the classic Pacific golden chanterelles, Cantharellus formosus. There are other varieties.

A strikingly hued species associated with spruce—Sitka on the coast and Engelmann in the inland West—goes by the name Cantharellus cibarius var. roseocanus. I find these chanterelles, known to commercial pickers as "peach chants" or "fluorescent chants," in the high huckleberry meadows of the Cascades, where they hug the ground in a most unchanterelle-like demureness, their dullish yellow caps with a surprisingly flat topography peeking out of the duff. But slice one off at the ankles and turn it over and you'll see the most blazing hue of neon orange underneath the cap.

And let's not forget the humble white chanterelle (Cantharellus subalbidus), which is often less expensive at the market than its golden cousin yet is my favorite for its meatiness and strong flavor. White chanties hide beneath the duff, often requiring an eagle eye and careful excavation. The result is a chanterelle that is dirtier than its golden counterparts but worth the effort to root out and clean up.

Fig & Chanterelle Crostini

For this post I tried to stay away from heavy cream, an effort of Dr. Strangelove proportions. The photo at top is my favorite new canape, a simple dollop of chopped chanterelles sauteed with shallots and fresh sage in butter topped with a thin slice of fig and a sprinkle of parsley. Admittedly, I wasn't too keen on the fig when a few of us first concocted this simple crostini; I thought the addition of fresh fig would take the fruitiness factor too far, but in fact it merely drives home the fact that chanterelles are a woodsy treat.

The photo at bottom shows a chanterelle succotash of sorts: Balsamic Glazed Pork Loin over Chanterelles, Corn & Apple. I'd say this is still a work in progress. I sauteed the chanties in bacon fat (with the diced bacon left in) along with chopped shallots, then added corn scraped off the cob, a diced Granny Smith apple, and a handful of baby arugula. The sweet and tart flavors still need some balancing, so I won't bother with the full recipe.

The other dinner shot is a recipe taken from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Scallops with Chanterelles, Sherry, and Parsley Breadcrumbs. This was a meal that encouraged third helpings and I can't recommend Goin's book enough.

Chanties offer endless possibilities for brightening a meal with fall color and the tastes and smells of the harvest season. To borrow from Bull Durham, when you speak of the chanterelle, speak well.

24 comments:

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I would never turn up my nose at a chanterelle - one of my favorites. I love the fig and chanterelle crostini idea.

jfwells said...

How do you scrape corn off a cod? Is that a ling cod, or the Atlantic type? ;-)

just added some chantrelles to a brussel sprout gratin last weekend. Sadly, the sprouts overpowered the shrooms. Was worth a shot.

Camille said...

I had my first face-to-face encounter with chanterelles a few days ago... 15 minutes away from a busy road in Vancouver! Incredible scent- like you said- apricots and vineyards.

I ended up with 5 big guys and can't wait to fry em' up with some butter, white wine and fresh herbs.

Ever tried honey/bootlace mushrooms (armillaria)? Definitely not as delicious, but plentiful and rewarding to hunt. I've got a recipe posted on my blog if you're interested.

Russell Hews Everett said...

I agree: Chanties Everywhere. In two outings I've pulled in 10 lbs this year. At least, once the rains finally came! Didn't think it was possible to get tired of them... :) But it's given me plenty to play around with, next project is a Chanterelle Beer.

It's starting to get cold in the lower Cascades though, I'm worried it may be near the end of the season. Some of the ones I found last weekend were a bit sad.

speakfreely said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
speakfreely said...

Locally (Eastern Appalachians) this was a banner year for Chanterelles, though the season was in August, as is typical for around here. I have never seen so many get so huge. Probably because it has been an extremely wet year, too.

Michael Natkin said...

So far I've been limited to foraging them at the farmer's market and PCC, and it can be frustratingly hard to find enough that aren't slimy or shriveled. Speaking of the fruit combo, this is one of my faves: http://bit.ly/5o8B0 .

LC said...

Ciao Chow Linda - We can form a chanty support group!

jfwells - You haven't lived until you've had corn on the cod.

Camille - Nice to have a chanty spot just outside of town. I don't hunt honey mushrooms much but will check out your recipe.

Russell - Keep a lookout for those low-elevation microclimates where the early frosts don't penetrate. It's usually possible to get chants well into Nov in such spots.

Speakfreely - A friend who has property in Maine said it was a banner year for chants. Do you get them in the same numbers as here in the PNW?

Michael - The stuff at the markets sits out all day and gets nasty. On the other hand, even chanties that look dried & shriveled can cook up nicely--certainly more nicely than the slimy stuff.

Live to Hunt.... said...

Oh my LC, now that is one of my favorite fungi! It is a fungi isn't it? Chanterelle's are amazing.

speakfreely said...

LC,

I wouldn't know; mom tells me I was conceived in British Columbia, but I've never been back to visit;-) So I can't compare with the Pacific NW. It seems that your mild, wet climate favors a lot of mushroom species. But Chanterelles are certainly among the most prolific of the edibles around here.

Russell Hews Everett said...

LC - Yeah I agree with you there. Someone told me yesterday that she had started finding them on Bainbridge Island, and I'll be watching for them at my in-laws place out near Woodinville. They don't know whether they get chanterelles, but they've never really looked for them. A Wooly Chanterelle popped up there last week (I got the semi-blurry "What is this?" photo in an email.) so maybe the good kind will show up too. Think I may give the mountains one last go-round this weekend though. That's it though, I spent an hour and a half yesterday cleaning, cooking down, and freezing last weekend's haul for Winter. Chantied out. Got some nice posts (and dinners!) out of the season though.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Big fan of chanterelles, especially the black trumpets that come later. Equally big fan of Goin's book -- only Los Angeles chef I know of who's more like a NorCal chef, meaning less lobster and filet mignon, more local-seasonal. Great book.

Kimberley said...

Reading this makes me want to live in the PNW. I cannot wait to make crostini inspired by your fig + chanterelle version. It's perfect for fall.

Heather said...

Did you know the Japanese name for chanterelle is "anzutaki"? It literally translates to "apricot mushroom". Fitting.

LC said...

Live to Hunt - When do yours pop? Closer to December?

Speakfreely - I want to do more mushroom hunting in far-flung places. Saw pictures of chanties fruiting in Florida!

RUssell - Did you eat the woolly? Some people do, but I would advise against it.

Hank - Black trumpets are one of my favorites. Not so many around here. N. Cal is the strike zone. Goin's book is amazing and I've only made a few dishes so far.

Kimberley - The fig & chanty crostini is a crowd pleaser for sure. Porcini over ricotta is another nice crostini I'll be posting soon.

Heather - I did not know that. Cool. Did you get any yet?

Maggie said...

Oh, chanterelles are my weakness. I love the idea of combining it with figs—perfectly woodsy, as you say. Your blog is making me miss the Northwest something fierce.

Perry said...

making me miss west coast chanterelles! im a recent california transplant to maryland. chanterelles here are tiny and often worm ridden. the abundant 5+ pound hen of the woods are a decent consolation prize though.

Cara said...

I've had a hard time finding a lot of chanterelles this year in Whatcom county. It's been so dry, until this week, hopefully i will find more before it gets too cold.

Trixi said...

To Cara - keep looking! We've picked about 25 pounds so far! Found a bunch on Sunday--they're out there!

Chocolate Shavings said...

Ah.. chanterelles, just the word makes me want a bite of that crostini!

Wizardry of Oz said...

Thanks for this post. I just bought a nice bag of Chanterelles and wasn't quite certain how to use them (we're on a try something new kick). Unfortunately I can't get into the woods in my wheelchair but when we saw these mushrooms and smelled their delicious aroma I got out my homemade apricot preserves and a couple of slices of serrano ham and made a grilled sandwich on homemade ciabatta bread. To DIE for. Can't wait to get some fresh figs this weekend and some nice bacon. Thanks again.

Wizardry of Oz said...

Thanks for this post. I just bought a nice bag of Chanterelles and wasn't quite certain how to use them (we're on a try something new kick). Unfortunately I can't get into the woods in my wheelchair but when we saw these mushrooms and smelled their delicious aroma I got out my homemade apricot preserves and a couple of slices of serrano ham and made a grilled sandwich on homemade ciabatta bread. To DIE for. Can't wait to get some fresh figs this weekend and some nice bacon. Thanks again.

Annie said...

Great post Langdon. I've only had chanterelles once... not really easy to come by out on a desert island. :) But we have have a new neighbor who has introduced us to many new mushrooms foraged in the PNW and now were hooked and wanting more!

jean said...

I love the way you call them chanties...theres a type of mushroom here called fredolicks and I call fredoleekies...because I love them