Besides being beautiful, BC’s forests can be edible. It’s where wild mushrooms flourish – that down-to-earth seasonally indulgent ingredient that perks up a fall meal like nothing else can. As many food enthusiasts know, it’s now prime time for a forest jewel called chanterelle mushrooms.
Not just any mushroom, chanterelles are stars in the wild mushroom category of savoury flavour, versatility, and earthy goodness. And foragers are now out in full force hunting for golden treasure. They grow wild in mossy ground patches around trees, especially coastal areas and Vancouver Island in particular.
Which makes the Tofino area a fertile, hotbed of fungus-among-us.
Like a foodie Easter egg hunt, locals and visiting mushroom lovers are heading to targeted areas along the Pacific Rim Highway and Kennedy Lake. Golden orange in colour with ridges vs. gills, chanterelle caps are wavy and form a trumpet-like shape.
They start to pop up in the summer, and by late fall can be up to 8 inches in diameter like giant, beautiful forest flowers calling out to be picked and eaten because their work is done.
Factoids: Did you know chanterelles are rich in protein (a vegetable?) and loaded with minerals and vitamins, especially A and B? Chanterelles may also be the most recognized mushroom in the world. In fact, the Chinese, who have been picking chanterelles for 6000 years, tout its medicinal, disease fighting qualities. Fetching around $20 per pound, Canada exports around $3 to $5 million annually primarily to Europe, France and Germany. (Another reason local foragers are so enthusiastic?)
But if to you, foraging translates to “what you do in your fridge”, of course you can find fresh chanterelles in the produce section of many food stores.
So enough about picking mushrooms, let’s eat!
Cooking with chanterelles is a treat on all levels. Cleaning is a breeze (*see below) and their texture is tender but not “crumbly” like a portabella can be. They also don’t disintegrate when you cook them; they hold their own when sautéed and stirred.
Simple sautéed chanterelles (**see below) are quick and delicious as a stand-alone side with steak or atop gourmet hamburgers, and also fantastic when added to other dishes like pasta or omelettes. But for a show-stopping way to showcase chanterelles, check out this risotto recipe that guest-stars another BC mushroom favourite, porcinis.
Tried, tested and true (by yours truly), this is so good you’ll be basking in high-fives at the table…but first a Chef’s Secret:
Risotto is Italy’s most beloved rice dish for a reason, and it’s easier than you think. The key is about 20 minutes of frequent stirring, not constant, frequent….one ladle of chicken stock at a time. So pour yourself a glass of wine from the bottle you’ll need for this recipe, stand by, stir and relax!
CHANTERELLE & PORCINI RISOTTO
By Food Network Chef Tyler Florence
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
½ pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
½ pound fresh porcini mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3 springs fresh thyme, leaves only
1 fresh bay leaf
2 cups white wine
Sea salt (or kosher salt) & fresh ground pepper
2 cups Arborio rice
6 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
½ cup parmesan
drizzle of white truffle oil (totally optional)
Warm a wide large heavy-bottomed pan over a medium-low heat. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp butter; melt together.
Add shallots and cook for 2 minutes (or until translucent), then toss the mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf into the pan. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their moisture and begin to turn golden brown.
Pour 1 cup of the wine into the pan, and bring the liquid to a simmer, allowing the wine to evaporate. Continue cooking until the mushrooms are dry, about 5 to 7 minutes. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove mushrooms from the pan and set aside. Discard the bay leaf.
Reduce the heat to low, and add the remaining butter and oil to the pan and melt. Stir in the rice and coat with the oil until the kernels are shiny; about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the remaining 1 cup of white wine and let evaporate.
Add the chicken stock, 1 ladle at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid. Do not add too quickly so as to prevent the kernels from exploding. Stir over a gentle heat until each ladle of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat until most of the stock is incorporated and the risotto rice is al dente; about 20-25 minutes.
Fold the mushrooms back into the rice and season with salt, pepper and parsley.
Stir in the Parmesan, finish with drizzle of white truffle oil (optional), and serve immediately.
* Cleaning chanterelles: They’re like sponges, so don’t rinse with water. Just use a small brush or damp cloth and do a quick edge trim if necessary.
** Simple sautéed chanterelles: Heat olive oil and butter over medium heat in a frying pan; add garlic, stir 2 minutes; add sliced chanterelles, fresh or dried thyme, salt & pepper…5 more minutes until golden in colour…voila!
A WORD OF CAUTION FOR MUSHROOM HUNTERS: If you’re planning to head out for a fun mushroom picking adventure, know that there’s an imposter that “looks” like a chanterelle only redder in colour, and it’s actually poisonous. Here’s a link to some info including photos so you can distinguish the difference from our expert friends at Gotofino.com. Happy (and safe) hunting!