Monday, November 4, 2013

Chanterelle Mushrooms!

I had to take advantage of the last of beautiful fall days. So Rocky (my blue heeler dog) and I decided to go on a deep forest hike and chanterelle mushroom expedition.  I love those golden trumpet shaped mushrooms that are bountiful in the fall.  When cooked in soups, or sauteed, or included in sauces, they impart a nice mellow flavor.  They are forest gold.

Normally I would include a Google My Tracks app map of our hike but then that would show you where my chanterelle mushroom spots are.  Mushroom pickers are notoriously famous for guarding and keeping secret about their mushroom harvesting locations.  So, sorry no map included except to say I found them within a 20 minute drive from my house. Washington is perfect chanterelle mushroom country so just about anywhere there are woods you can find chanterelles.  If you are interested in chanterelle mushroom picking and it is your first time, make sure you take someone who has picked chanterelles before so you make no mistakes in picking the wrong mushrooms.  Also let someone know where you are going.  Wear good warm clothes and sturdy boots for walking over uneven ground.

Chanterelles are typically found in second or third growth Douglas fir forests. I have found them partial to shady areas and where there is a lot of old woody debris, e.g., old fallen trees and limbs.  If you see one chanterelle mushroom you will probably find more since their root system (if you can call it that) is quite extensive underground.  Cut the mushroom low on the stem versus picking it because if you pull it out chances are you will damage the root system and mushrooms will not reappear.

Rocky and I found a nice forest trail and walked along it but the trail was too rocky and open - unlikely finding chanterelles along this trail . As we continued down the trail I spied a game trail that leads up into the woods which seems much more conducive to finding mushrooms.  Sure enough as soon as we get deeper into the woods there are mushrooms everywhere - big ones, brown ones, white ones, small ones, tall ones, all sorts of mushrooms except the mushroom I was seeking - chanterelles. However I take seeing so many different mushrooms to be a good sign.  It is fall so the golden color of maple leaves on the forest floor mimic the color of chanterelles so I find that I have to look hard.  I finally find a chanterelle mushroom about the size of my fist, a good sized one.  It is simply beautiful - golden color, smooth fluted top, nice and round.  As I carefully pick this beautiful mushroom, I see more and more chanterelles that I didn't see a moment ago. I realize I found the chanterelle mushroom motherload. There were so many I am selective on which ones to harvest. I only pick perfect ones - good color and shape, and those that are not too small but then again not too big.  Realizing that I just started my walk, I decide that  I will not pick all of them here but hope of find more farther along.

The game trail continues to go deeper into the woods.  I make sure I am tracking my route using my Google My Tracks app on my smartphone so I will not get lost and can, if necessary, re-trace my route. I notice that this game trail has seen more traffic than just game by the garbage of empty sandwich bags and pop cans left behind. The trail continues to climb up and deeper into the woods and hills.  As I look for mushrooms I also have to keep an eye on where the game trail goes.  I believe I have a lot of experience with following game trails and know that they can easily diverge or slowly fade away.  The game trail winds around windfalls of downed trees and avoids steep draws but continues to climb deeper into the woods. A look at my progress on the My Tracks app shows a twisty this-way then that-way track that I have walked.  I see that if I continue on this game trail that it should intersect farther on with a gravel road - at least I hope so.  As game trails go it is not bad walking but you still have to step over logs and limbs, walk over uneven ground, and through deep brush.  A road will eliminate all that and make walking easier and faster.

Sure enough I spy another chanterelle mushroom just off the game trail, and as before where I spy one I spy many.  Again I am selective in which mushrooms I harvest - only the beautiful shaped golden ones that are medium sized.  There are so many that I say to myself, "Once again you have found the chanterelle mushroom motherload."  Rocky is finally curious in what I am doing.  He sniffs the mushrooms and looks at me quizzically as if to say, "what are you doing with these things?"

Sure enough as I fill my bag with mushrooms I lose sight of the game trail. I am now standing on a very steep slope to the point I could touch the ground with my hands without any sort of bending or stooping. I simply had to lean just a bit, extend my arms and I am doing a three-point or four-point touch with the ground. Another check of the My Tracks app shows that I am less than 100 feet from the gravel road. Good because this is way too steep for me.  I could tell the road was up ahead because the sun was shining through trees from a clearing - the road.  The bag of mushrooms is now very full and heavy.  I estimated that I had picked well over 10 pounds of mushrooms. Climbing the steep slope was difficult itself, but now lugging a heavy bag of mushrooms made it a bit more challenging.  To make my steep climb easier, I fashioned a kind of a rucksack out of the dog leash and the bag so that I could securely transport the bag of mushrooms on my back. I then did a four-point spider type of crawl up the steep slope.  I had about 100 feet of elevation to climb and I did it in 20 foot sections.  Each 20 feet I stopped and caught my breath for a moment.  I believe even Rocky was happy for the rest stops since even he was struggling at climbing up the steep hill.  Finally I reached the top of the hill, waded through some thick salal that was over my head in height and burst out onto the gravel road.  Oof, glad that was over.

The old gravel forest road twisted and wound its way back to where I had started albeit about three
miles farther than my one mile game trail and hill scramble.  I used my improvised bag of mushrooms rucksack all the way on the road too. All told the My Tracks app said that I had traveled 3.9 miles and gained almost 750' of elevation.  The short jaunt back to the house was all smiles in that I had a bag full of mushrooms and Rocky had a great forest adventure. As I walked I began to think about mushroom recipes.

Here are some tasty mushroom recipes that you can try with chanterelles or store bought mushrooms.

Preparing chanterelles... thoroughly wash them to remove forest debris and grit. Let them air dry in a colander. They will keep for several days in a cool, dry place.  I have read that chanterelles should not be eaten raw but only cooked. 

Italian Sausage with mushrooms and rigatoni
This is a long time family favorite. It can be made with shitakes, porcini, button or chanterelle mushrooms.  If using dried mushrooms reserve the mushroom soaking liquid and mix it in with the beef broth.

1 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. Italian sausage (I prefer hot)
1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 tsp rosemary
1-2 bay leaves
1 T dried parsely
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1/2 cup half-n-half
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups Rigatoni, dried pasta then cooked

Heat large pot over medium heat with olive oil.  When oil is hot add chopped onion and saute until onion is soft about 3 minutes.  Add Italian sausage and cook until sausage is no longer pink about 5 minutes.  While sausage is cooking break up sausage into smaller chunks.  Add mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes.  Mushrooms will release water and cook until water is nearly gone.  Add white wine and herbs and cook for about 5 minutes until at least liquid is reduced by half or more.  You want that concentrated mushroom flavor.  Next add the beef broth and simmer uncovered over low heat for 15-20 minutes until the sausage-mushroom mixture gets thick by being reduced.  Meanwhile cook the rigatoni pasta until al dente.

Add the half-n-half to the pot and mix well. Cook for another 5 minutes, but do not burn or scald.  The sauce should be creamy.  Add the pasta to the pot and mix well.  Finally add the grated Parmesan cheese to the pot and mix very well.  Serve with crusty french bread and perhaps a bit more grated Parmesan cheese on top. Enjoy.

Hungarian Wild Mushroom Soup
I love to dip a grilled cheese sandwich into this soup when eating it.  The bread soaks up the soup and the mix of flavors is just wonderful.  It would be a good soup to make after you spent a cold day in the woods.

2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup flour
1 T paprika
1 t dill weed
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream

In a large Dutch oven or pot heat the butter and olive oil together until the butter just starts to sizzle. Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes or until the onion is soft and nearly translucent.  Add the mushrooms and white wine and cook until nearly all the water the mushrooms give off and the wine are gone, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the flour and paprika, mix well, and cook for about another 2 minutes until very fragrant.  Add the broth, water, and dill weed and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes. If the soup gets too thick add a bit of water.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into a bowl and add a dollop of sour cream. Serve with some crusty bread. Sometimes I add a few drops of balsamic vinegar just to add some acid to the soup.  Enjoy.

Simple Chanterelle Mushroom Saute
There are so many things you can do with this mushroom saute - mix it in with scrambled eggs, or add to a brown gravy to make it a "Jaeger Sauce" (Hunter's gravy), or on top of toasted french bread or crostini as an elegant appetizer, or mixed with wild rice, or simply served mixed with pasta.  It's just a wonderful and flavorful mushroom saute.

2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. Chanterelle mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 tsp rosemary.
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a sauce pan over medium heat.  Add butter and olive oil and when butter just starts to sizzle, add chopped onions.  Cook onions 3-5 minutes until they are soft and translucent.  Add mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes.  When mushrooms have given off most of their water, add white wine and rosemary.  Cook mixture, stirring occasionally, until white wine is cooked off about 5-7 minutes.  Remove from heat, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. 

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