Chanterelle season is coming to a close here in Washington State. Though we have yet to see a killing frost in Seattle, fall rains are transforming the chanties into big floppy, waterlogged monstrosities. The other day I found some twice the size of my fist.
This time of year it pays to locate microclimates free of frost where chanterelles have enough cover to keep relatively dry. Even so, moisture from ground-soaking rains will be absorbed into the fruiting bodies and they'll balloon into what the commercial pickers call flowers, with tattered edges and deep vase-like caps (see photo at right). Many a neophyte mushroom picker has been overjoyed to find such huge specimens in the woods only to wrinkle a nose at the way they cook up slimy in the pan.
Here's what you do with soggy chanterelles.
First, choose your equipment wisely. Use a bucket or basket in the woods. A lidded bucket is best. If you're concerned about spreading spores, drill holes in the bottom of the bucket. The point is to have a solid receptacle and keep forest litter out. A soft-bodied receptacle such as a canvas bag allows for too much jostling, and a moisture-trapping plastic bag is just plain bone-headed.
Second, brush off the mushrooms carefully after picking and make sure you have a clean cut stem. This time of year I only high-grade when I'm picking chanterelles, which means I pick the very best and leave the rest. I look for smaller and firmer ones. Most of the flowers I ignore unless I find a dry one. A few overly wet mushrooms can infect your whole batch.
Third, if you have a long drive, take care of your mushrooms en route. Empty them into a newspaper-lined basket or box. When you get home, immediately spread the chanterelles over newspaper so they have a chance to breathe. Change the newspapers if necessary. It may take a few days to allow excess moisture to evaporate. I'm not talking about dehydrating them, just getting them into decent cooking shape.
One problem with drying your chanterelles over a couple days is that I suspect some of the flavor leaches out. With this in mind, another option for soggy chanterelles is to cook them right away—but be warned, they will cook up slimy. On the other hand, I have an excellent recipe to neutralize the slime factor and make the most of the intense flavor that develops in large, mature chanterelles.
Cream of Chanterelle Soup
This is nearly identical to an earlier recipe I posted, with one major exception: the immersion blender, one of the great deals in kitchen gadgets. By blending the soup you get rid of any unpalatable chunks of slimy mushroom. The dried porcini is not absolutely necessary, but it's the secret weapon in any good mushroom soup.
6 tbsp butter, divided
1 med onion, diced
1 lb fresh chanterelles, diced
3 oz. dried porcini, rehydrated in 2 cups warm water
1/4 cup flour
4 cups beef stock
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
salt to taste
1 cup or more heavy cream
1. Melt half the butter in a large pot. Add onions and cook over medium heat until caramelized.
2. Meanwhile pulverize porcini into dust with food processor and rehydrate in a bowl with warm water.
3. When onions are nicely caramelized add chanterelles and remaining butter, raise heat to high, and cook 5 minutes or so, stirring, until mushrooms have expelled their moisture. Cook off some of the liquid. The time required for this step will vary depending on how moist the mushrooms are. They should be slightly soupy before continuing to the next step.
4. Lower heat to medium and blend in flour with sauteed mushrooms and onions. Pour in beef stock slowly, stirring. Add porcini stock.
5. Bring to boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Add spices. Use an immersion blender to puree soup or blend in a food processor. The soup should be smooth and creamy.
6. Lower heat and add cream before serving.
Optional but highly recommended: In a separate pan, saute black trumpet mushrooms, chanterelles, or other wild mushrooms in butter for garnish and added texture. If you can get your hands on black trumpets, by all means do so. They taste a lot like chanterelles on steroids and add exceptional flavor to the soup.
Serves 4 - 6
I've seen plenty of Chanty Soup recipes out there on the Interwebs that use exotic ingredients and techniques. This recipe is quick, easy, and delicious—and it highlights the main event, the mushrooms! You can make a complicated soup if you'd like. Then try this one.