There are many amazing things about this beautiful place that we live in. The majestic trees, clean water, vibrant wildlife, (including the elk that eat my garden) and the mighty pacific ocean roaring in the background make up just a few of the truly amazing features. But of all our natural resources, the one that foodies lust after is the delicious wild mushrooms that abound on our forest floor.
Even though wild mushrooms grow all year long, it is in the fall that they are in their true glory. During this time, mushroom hunters flood into the woods searching for these delicacies, such as the lovely and tasty chanterelle, which can be sold for up to $20 a pound. Yup, crazy huh? But ya see, these mushrooms are called “wild” because they are. They cannot be grown in captivity.
Due to this fact, and how highly they are prized in the culinary world, we literally have gold growing in our woods. This causes an interesting phenomenon where everyone from the humble home cook to slick professional outfits are combing our woods for the wild mushroom. Recently, caveman hubby, out hunting deer, ran into a “team” of mushroom gathers with specialized backpacks that had been sent into the woods with GPS devices to gather the bounty after a team of “hunters” had come through and GPS mapped the crops of mushrooms.
It is no wonder, there is all this woo haa over these little jewels as they are incredibly tasty and chocked full of nutritional benefits. There is no better food for us than wild foods. Wild foods are packed with phytonutrients, which are essential to good health for more reasons than I have room to write about. Our well behaved and domesticated produce doesn’t hold a 10th of these nutrients that wild foods do.
There are over 20 types of wild mushrooms growing around us. The most favorite of these are the king bolete AKA porcini mushrooms, morels and the above mentioned chanterelles. But there are also the lobster, chicken of the woods, fairy rings, and the prince, to mention a few. It is a veritable smorgasbord of mushrooms out there to try!
But please don’t run out there and start tasting mushrooms. If you are interested in mushroom hunting, first take a class or at the very least go out with someone who knows what they are doing, armed with a good book on mushroom identification. As we all know, there are also poisonous mushrooms out there that will drop you in your tracks. It is a blast (and way cheaper) to go hunting for them, just make sure and do it right.
I recommend buying them to start with. Look for mushrooms that are dense and fragrant. Do not buy specimens that are slimy or with decay spots on them. Also light feeling ones have been picked for a while and are dehydrated. Store your treasures in the fridge in a dry paper bag and use within one week.
Make sure and clean them well, right before using. The chanterelles sometimes require breaking them apart to clean all the grooves and folds where pine needles hide. Do not soak them and dry them well with a clean kitchen towel after cleaning because if they soak up too much water the flavor is compromised.
The best way to get the flavor of a wild mushroom is to slice them and sauté them in butter and garlic. Plain, simple honest. Mushrooms in general, love butter and you will love them in butter. Spoon this on anything from winter squash to steaks or eat out of the pan. I personally love mushroom soup. Love. Here is my long standing favorite mushroom soup from the venerable “Moosewood cookbook” by my hero Mollie Katzen. Take advantage of this particularly bumper crop mushroom season to cook this up.
Hungarian wild mushroom soup
This tasty soup can be a meatless main course good for two people or a starter for 4. Takes about an hour to prepare. I used chanterelles and highly recommend them here. This is excellent poured over chicken breasts and baked or as a gravy. It can be made Paleo by subbing coconut milk for the milk and foregoing the sour cream. I almost like it this way better.
2 tablespoons of butter (yup!)
2 cups of chopped sweet onions
1.5 to 2 pounds of wild mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon of kosher or flaked salt
2-3 teaspoons of dried dill
Or 2-3 tablespoons of fresh dill, minced
1-2 teaspoons of sweet paprika
1 tablespoon of fresh squeeze lemon juice
3 tablespoons of arrowroot powder for gluten free
2 cups of a mild stock or water
1 cup coconut milk
OR 1 cup of milk
Black pepper to taste and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper (red pepper optional)
1/2 cup of sour cream (optional)
Finely minced fresh parsley for the top
Click up your heels! You are about to make history! Melt the butter in a large dutch oven or soup pot. Add the onions and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes till fragrant and seductive. Reverently add the mushrooms, salt, dill and paprika. Sauté for a minute, the cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring now and then. Then stir in the lemon juice.
Reduce the heat to medium low and cook and stir for another 5 minutes or so. Add the water/stock with the arrowroot powder dissolved in it and cook for 10 more minutes while stirring and drooling. (Try not to get it in the pot) Stir in the milk, (or coconut milk) black pepper and crushed red pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings. When it is perfect, work in the sour cream and heat gently, no boiling at this point, till it gets hot but not boiling. Serve topped with the freshly mince parsley. Enjoy this golden delicious NW wonder!