The greedy hunter pays the price

Chanterelles: hard to miss, harder to clean.

The search cost for many mushrooms, so sparse and unpredictable, would seem to be too expensive for what you get — except that you weigh those costs not only against the find’s quantity and deliciousness, but your irrational desire for the quest itself, or to conquer the maddening woods.

Chanterelles are pleasantly untricky to find. But they are the mushrooms for which I’ve paid the steepest price so far. Mosquitos by the hundreds give me the supreme heebie-jeebies. They even drove W. batty.

See that smile? It is crazed by two hours of having being eaten alive, and yet having chosen that fate. Also, please note that I am not usually drenched in sweat.

Then once you’ve found them, the price becomes steeper still. All the books say not to soak them, so you begin with a toothbrush and a paring knife to cut off all the dirt until you go mad or run out of hours to spend mushroom-cleaning. Then you begin to consider that you found them after a giant rain and try soaking them anyway, which is pretty effective, but you still have to treat each one’s baroque little folds individually with a knife. The human mouth is unhappily adept at finding even the tiniest bit of grit, and most come with quite a bit more.

In addition to the dirt, lots of these guys turn out to be hollow — pre-eaten by haute-gastro maggots. When you discover the motherlode like we did, you gradually grow snobby and stop collecting ones that look like this; it's practically a law of foraging economics.

How not to clean a chanterelle — unless you're as crazy as I am. It is effective, though. Another note: Not my regular toothbrush.

My final advice is not to soak them, but if you must soak them, which is only reasonable, it works better on mushrooms that have dried out in the fridge a bit. And then, if you can leave them on towels overnight, you will have a better shot at sauteing them properly.

Ah. Finally clean. Ish.

Do Not Crowd the Mushrooms.

You do that in a wok at very high heat, giving each mushroom some personal space. After a few moments add a bit of olive oil or butter and a generous dash of salt. The mushrooms begin to weep, and you keep them moving so they aren’t sitting in the juice, which evaporates almost as quickly as it appears. If the mushrooms were very wet, pour off the liquid as it appears (and save it for something delicious). Then they are done crying, and they begin to brown, and you are in a good situation.

These little orange guys we fried for garnishes. The black chanterelles are related but a whole nother story; they are in the picture just so I can boast that I found them.

Our first batch of chanterelles ended up in a classic cream of chanterelle soup, the way Escoffier did it (except for my stock, a mixture of raccoon, duck and chicken). Incredible. Nearly unwound the hours of mosquito-induced stress from the hunt. But way too rich to eat more than a few spoonfuls. You can’t eat loads of chanterelles that way, and we had loads of chanterelles to eat.

So, pizza, omelets etc. Arduous, happy task.

Fresh mozzarella, garlic, chanterelles, olive oil, basil, etc.

But if you don’t feel like going to all that trouble, you can just blanch and pickle them, as I did with the last three quarts of mushrooms (and if you blanch, no need to worry about cleaning them dry, right?) Chez Pim has posted an excellent recipe with golden raisins and unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Pickled chanterelles maintain a texture that’s softer than their raw form, but truer to it than the sauteed version. Delicious and strange. We have quarts of them to finish, alas.


3 responses to “The greedy hunter pays the price

  1. Hi,

    Nice post. I thought chanterelle season was over. I have not seen many in a while. But then again I have not been in the woods as much as I usually am.

    I love your comments about the “economics” of mushroom hunting. I am obsessed with mushroom hunting, but every time I do the mental math, it seems like the wild mushrooms I gather end up costing me about $100/pound in opportunity cost.

    Here is our chanterelle post . We were lucky in that the chanterelle patch we found was very fresh, in a place where there are almost no mosquitos and there was a lot of vegetation which prevented dirt from being splashed up on the mushroom when it rains. So almost no cleaning was required. We also found quite a few black trumpets in the same area.

    That pickling recipe looks great. We will need to try it.

    By the way, we have been finding a lot of chicken of the woods (both white and yellow). The economics on that is better because they are so big and I only pick them if they are fresh and do not need cleaning. The only negative is they taste so much like chicken, that I wonder why we don’t just eat chicken. I think they would have a lot more appeal if we were vegetarians.

  2. Hi,
    I just came across your blog because I’ve been trying to find an experienced mushroom-hunter in Madison to go out into the woods with, and thought I’d ask you if you have any leads. I’ve discovered the Wisconsin Mycological Society, but it seems like they only have a few events, and that a lot of them are out of town. Any even-more-local folks who do guided tours? Or would you be game for such a thing?
    Let me know if you can!


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