Chanterelles provide the cook some very real challenges, not the least of which is cleaning them enough to cook them. Frankly, I wash the hell out of mine, all the time thinking how unsuccessful a brush cleaning of a chanterelle would be – I sure wouldn’t want to eat any dish made with brush cleaned chanterelles! An additional challenge is finding ways to use them where their subtle taste does not get drowned by more assertive flavors – this is not a small problem, especially if you paid market price for your chanterelles – you want them to stand out, but it’s so easy to overwhelm them.
Well, I recently – actually a year ago now – picked up a few ways to get past both of these challenges. I was watching one of Lydia Bastianich’s cooking programs where she was doing what she called a simple chanterelle sauce to be used for noodles. Immediately, I was struck by the way she prepared the chanterelles for cooking – instead of cutting them into slices, which was really the only way I’d done this previously, she began to tear them from the top to the bottom – she called it, shredding. She’d grab the chanterelle by the cap with her two thumbs, and pull it apart. Then she’d grab another piece close to the edge of one of the split halves, and she’d pull another strip down. She continued to shred the rest of the chanterelle into about five or six long strips. Didn’t take long, and soon she was on to the making of her sauce (see recipe below). But my attention was on something else entirely.
As I watched her shred the chanterelles, all I could think of was, “Hey, if you could shred the chanterelle at the same time you were cleaning it, that would speed everything up!” And it does. And it makes cleaning those babies so much easier. I don’t know why I was working so hard trying to keep my chanterelles whole while cleaning them, when I never cook them whole! And god knows, the way a chanterelle grows, it often traps dirt, moss, needles, and whatever in the folds of its cap. As I ran the water over the subject mushroom, I found it strangely empowering to also tear the chanterelle apart and wash out all the nasty stuff. I then just toss my shredded chanterelle into a colander to drain for a bit, and then spread them out on a few sheets of newspaper to dry.
Once the chanterelles have dried some, you can put them into a paper bag for storage in your fridge – fresh chanterelles have extraordinary keeping characteristics, but I think their best flavor is as a fresh mushroom. But if you’re thinking about getting them ready for freezing, consider using either a dry saute, a butter saute, or a wonderful simple chanterelle sauce from Lydia Bastianich (below).
A dry saute is just what it sounds like – once the chanterelles are cut up, heat a large pan to medium hot, and add a few handfuls of mushrooms. Be sure to move them around quickly to avoid scorching them – enjoy their squeeks. They will release a significant amount of water, continue to stir while the liquid evaporates. This water is NOT the result of washing the chanterelles, they are 90% water naturally. Continue to stir them as they soften and dry out. At any point now, you can remove them from the pan to cool – once cooled, they are ready now for preparing them for the freezer. I put them in 10 oz pacs and vacuum pack them.
Butter saute is the same as above, but adding butter to your pan, and use of a medium heat. Do not be concerned about the liquid that cooks out – you are not losing any flavor, in fact, you are concentrating the mushroom’s essense. They will need to continue cooking well after the liquid has disappeared – maybe 3-7 minutes more. Cool and pack as above.
But ever since I tried Lydia Bastianich’s chanterelle sauce, I make sure at least half of my frozen chanterelles are in the form of her sauce. It is simply wonderful all by itself over pasta, or used creatively as a part of whatever special dish you are planning. I would suggest that it is the act of shredding the chanterelle that preserves its subtle taste here, but do not fail to use shredded chanterelles in whatever your final preparation may be – and I think you will agree that the flavor is intensified.
Lydia’s Chanterelle Sauce
1 lb. chanterelles, shredded, not cut
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. chopped garlic
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat, and cook the garlic for a minute or two until it begins to soften. Add the mushrooms and cook for several minutes until they give up their liquid and begin to soften as well. Add the tomato paste and stir it in for a minute. Now add the chicken broth and cook it all together until the sauce begins to thicken and reduce, maybe 5 or 10 minutes (if the sauce gets too thick, add a bit more water, not more chicken broth, which could concentrate the salty flavors too much).
Enjoy this simple but delicious sauce.