All Hail the Queen of the Forest
Chanterelle mushrooms, dubbed the Queen of the Forest, are worth their weight in gold to chefs and home cooks alike.
By Robbie Sigona
The wild Chanterelle mushroom is up near the top of my list as one of my absolute favorite mushrooms. These funnel-shaped mushrooms, which grow to be quite large, have a beautiful, golden color and earthy, fruity – almost apricot-like – flavor that only makes them more versatile and unique in a number of dishes.
Chanterelles are one of the best wild mushrooms for pasta dishes, especially when it’s paired with a nice glass of wine (or two) and eaten in the company of those you enjoy the most.
Wild Chanterelles, dubbed the ‘Queen of the Forest’ by mushroom enthusiasts, are in season now. We’re getting frequent deliveries of freshly foraged Chanterelles from our regular suppliers, including Todd Spanier, owner of King of Mushrooms, and Franco Vassallo of PanExotic Mushrooms. Franco, a licensed professional, a true fungi connoisseur and founder of PanExotic Mushrooms, lives part-time in McCloud, Calif., a little town situated just below Mt. Shasta in northern California. This area, “God’s Country,” as Franco calls it, is home to plethora of wild mushrooms, the finest found anywhere on earth. Franco starts by gathering Chanterelles in Oregon and then follows the season south along the California coast.
The Chanterelle variety, known as Girolle in France and as Pfifferling in Germany, is cherished by chefs and home cooks worldwide for its outstanding flavor and limited availability; as wild Chanterelles grow as part of the root system of living trees, duplicating growth in an indoor setting for mass production has yet to be accomplished.
What’s this mean? You won’t find them just anywhere. For guaranteed fresh, good quality Chanterelles, check the farmers’ markets and specialty produce stores like Sigona’s! We have solid relationships with wild mushroom foragers who delivery frequently throughout the season.
Chanterelles have meaty caps with rounded, wavy edges. Their shallow, widely spaced gills on the underside of the cap look more like ridges than the gills on other mushroom varieties, and run the length of the stem part of the mushroom. The gills notoriously hide dirt, so it’s important to lightly brush them with a pastry brush, soft toothbrush or paper towel to clean them before cooking.
When selecting Chanterelles, look for firm, relatively dry, plump and spongy pieces. It’s also a good idea to give the mushrooms a whiff. If the aroma is faint, they’ll have a mild flavor. Look for more produce tips here.
My Uncle Carmelo has also put together a few basic concepts for cooking a pasta sauce with these wild mushrooms. Check it out:
Cook your favorite cut of pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, clean the Chanterelles (see this post for cleaning suggestions). After cleaning, sauté in extra virgin olive oil and/or butter… I like to use both. Use the olive oil first until the mushrooms release their water and it begins to evaporate. It’s important that you are patient and let the water evaporate as it will give more flavor and texture to the mushrooms. After the water evaporates, then add butter.
Next, remove the Chantrelles from the skillet and sauté your choice of shallots, onions or garlic. When they are cooked down a bit, put the mushrooms back into the skillet and sauté for a couple minutes more until flavors come together. For more flavor, add a bit of white wine or sherry and reduce by half.
Add cream and let reduce. It doesn’t have to be much, but it’ll add very rich flavor and thickness. This will thicken in about 3-5 minutes.
After sauce thickens, turn off the heat, reserve some of the sauce and add the cooked pasta to the pan. Add grated Parmigiano Reggiano (use the real deal) and toss. Move to a serving dish and top with some of the reserved sauce and sprinkle a bit more cheese to finish off the plate.
Click here for a few more Chanterelle mushroom recipes!