Monday, February 15, 2010
Adventures in Eating
A little while back I posted about a small handful of wild mushrooms that a friend had brought us from the Pacific Northwest.*
We intended to saute them in butter and cream, but as it turned out, our cream was turned and I only found out about it after I poured it into the pan of sauted mushrooms and it curdled. Yuk! I had to throw them away.
Well, today I got a second chance for some spring chanterelles. My next door neighbor pulled up in his driveway while I was on the street chatting with a couple of dog-walking neighbors. "Hey!" he said. "You want some mushrooms?"
He held out a huge orange chanterelle, flecked with dark loam. It was the size of my hand. And he had a whole bag full.
"Where'd you get them?" we asked.
"In the park," meaning here in our Topanga State Park. He gave two of us the mushrooms - the third woman demurred. He told us how to clean them and cook them.
I brought them inside and showed them to [The Man I Love] who tonight is smoking a whole chicken on the Weber. The menu also includes mashed potatoes and asparagus - and chanterelles would be a great accompaniment.
When I told him our neighbor had gathered them in the park, he was a little leery, so I looked up chanterelles online, and compared the photos and descriptions to the specimens I had.
Cantharellus cibarieus - or the Golden Chanterelle - grow throughout the world, and are quite commonly found in northern Europe and the Pacific Northwest. They are considered the best wild mushroom in the world, with a delicate, almost fruity/peppery flavor. A subspecies called Cantharellus californicus grows in Southern California oak forests - and appears to be the mushroom my neighbor brought to us.
There is a toxic mushroom that looks superficially like the chanterelle, but when I compared its photo and characteristics with my mushrooms, I could easily identify mine as chanterelles.
One of the key characteristics are the mushroom's gills - the chanterelle's gills are not actually true gills (which are separate structures), but just features of the mushroom's surface. The way you can tell the difference is that they fork as they run up the funnel-shaped stem.
See how the gills fork as they reach the mushroom's cap? The toxic mushroom doesn't do that.
Anyway - my neighbor is an accomplished chef, and I trust him. So - here goes.
I've read that you're not supposed to use water to clean chanterelles, because their delicate flesh will soak up the water and get soggy. Unfortunately, these had so much loamy soil on them and inside the delicate gills that water was a must. My neighbor suggested I blast them hard and fast with the faucet once, and then try to rub the soil off. I did that - and also peeled away some of the dirtier surfaces. I tried to blot off as much of the water that clung to them as I could. I cut them up in chunks and strips. The thick stems were meaty and yielded quite a lot of firm golden flesh.
Then, following my neighbor's directions and a recipe I found online, I tossed the pieces with olive oil, some dried thyme, and salt in a foil-lined baking pan, and roasted them in a 400 degree oven and set the timer for 15 minutes.
Roasting them in an open pan is good, says my neighbor, because it allows the liquid to boil out of them.
After roasting for 20 minutes, they were golden in color, and a lot of liquid had accumulated in the pan. Since the chicken had to sit for 10 minutes after it came off the fire, I turned off the heat in the oven and let the mushrooms sit for the same amount of time. That reduced the liquid down and deepened the color of the 'shrooms.
Here they are, spooned onto the chicken breast meat. The chicken was juicy and slightly smoky from being cooked in the Weber, and the mushrooms were perfect with them - a rich flavor and a nice meaty texture.
Here's a picture of dinner - chicken, asparagus, mashed potatoes and mushrooms. All delicious, and - so far - no ill effects.
I'm posting this now, an hour after eating. So if you're reading this post, you won't know if we were wrong to trust our neighbor's expertise.
Several other neighbors were given chanterelles, too. So if there's a big newspaper story tomorrow morning about an entire Southern California community being stricken by toxic mushrooms, you will know I made a b-i-i-i-i-g mistake.
What do you think - would you eat wild mushrooms gathered from the woods?
*PS - I think the mushrooms we were given a few weeks ago were what is called hedgehog mushrooms, not chanterelles. Check out their gills.