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The Season of Rain and Chanterelles

A match made in Heaven

Well, here it is: after a record-breaking dry spell, the old familiar cold and rain have finally arrived.  Some of us love it; some of us hate it; and some of us tolerate the long grey months because we know that they have their rewards.

Rewards?  Yes, there are a few.  What’s rain in the valley is usually snow in the higher elevations, providing sport for skiers and snowboarders.  After we wait out a soggy winter we often have a beautiful spring (a little lacking in recent years) and wonderful summers, for a start.

And for the intrepid hiker who isn’t afraid of damp feet and slippery footing, Oregon’s forests can be beautiful in the rainy season, and the many species of fascinating and edible mushrooms that spring up when the rain comes down are a reason to welcome the wet.

Of the wealth of the Northwest’s wild mushrooms, one of the most versatile–and certainly the best-known–is the Chanterelle.
Rob Miller has been the Kiva’s major supplier of chanterelles for about a decade–often our sole supplier.  Our produce department likes the fresh, clean, sound mushrooms he brings us, as well as his reliability and his sensitivity to the areas in which he picks.

“I don’t like to work with intangibles,” he says; he made the choice long ago to be out in the weather hunting for chanterelles rather than sitting behind a desk shuffling numbers.  Rob says he loves to spend time in nature and take longs walks in the forests where he harvests fungal delicacies; he needs time in the wild to be happy.  This is especially lucky this year, since unusual weather (the long, late-summer dry spell followed by not only rain, but cold) has made this year’s mushroom crop scarce and harder to find–the worst year for picking that Rob has seen.

Since we don’t all have the time, ability, or know-how to go on those long walks ourselves, many of us rely on the convenient commercial availabilty of chanterelles and other wild mushrooms.  Having someone else do the legwork can be well worth the time and effort saved for busy folks, even though this year’s smaller harvest has driven prices up.

Chanterelles have a nutty, savory, delicate flavor with wide appeal–varieties of this mushroom grow in the northerly areas of Europe, Asia, and America, and they’re relished in many different cuisines.  There are endless ways to prepare and enjoy them; a quick search for “chanterelle recipes” on Google yielded 42,000 hits!

Chanterelle recipes are easier to find than mushrooms, but in search of more, I solicited recipes from Kiva employees this week and got some to add to the record.

A caveat:  these are not recipes written or tested by professional chefs, so use your own judgement.  Your mileage may vary!

The simplest came from Tom, our local grocery buyer.  He likes to slice, pan-fry, and eat chanterelles before they leave the skillet.  It doesn’t get easier than that!

Dave, one of our produce managers, offered this recipe:

Dave’s Kale with Chanterelle

Dave and a tasty friend

1 bunch Italian kale, chopped
A couple of medium-large chanterelles, halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small or 1 large shallot, minced
A couple tablespoons olive oil
In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add minced garlic, stir until garlic is translucent.  Add minced shallots, simmer until translucent.  Lower the heat and add the chopped kale.

In a separate pan, heat the chanterelles until they release liquid, then add them to the kale mixture.  Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper; serve immediately.

—–

Our wine buyer Ziggy makes this creamy Chanterelle Chicken every autumn at least once.  As you might expect, wine plays an important part in this dish.

Ziggy’s Chanterelle Chicken (serves 4 to 6)

Ziggy’s Chanterelle Chicken Sauce ready to serve

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, browned and cubed (1/2 inch cubes)

About 1 lb chanterelles, chopped fairly small
Two very large or four small shallots, minced
2/3 to ¾  bottle of dry white wine for cooking
½ pint heavy cream or Half-and-Half
4 Tablespoons butter, give or take a little
A couple of Tablespoons of flour
Fettuccine pasta, preferably fresh
The proportions of this recipe are very flexible, and I vary them every time I make it with the same great results.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet until bubbling; add the minced shallots.  Cook until translucent (don’t let them brown), then add the chopped chanterelles.  Heat until mushrooms are cooked through and have released their liquid; cook a few more minutes, then add the white wine in dollops of about a cup and let reduce between each addition.  Allow some time for this; I generally let the shallot-chanterelle mixture simmer for an hour or more while adding wine slowly.  (Chanterelles, like many foods, have alcohol-soluble factors that release and develop flavor during cooking with wine.)
Note:  For cooking wine I used the Domino Pinot Grigio; any crisp, dry white wine would do, though for my personal taste I prefer not to use Chardonnay for cooking.  The usual caution about not cooking with wine you wouldn’t want to drink applies; you don’t want to cook with wine which is “off” or yucky.  However, I do often cook with wine which is simpler (and less expensive) than I usually want to sip with dinner.
Brown the chicken on a grill or in a separate skillet with a little additional butter or olive oil.  I usually cook it whole over medium or medium-high heat until the surface is browned, then cut it in cubes and brown the cut sides lightly.  The chicken can then be set aside while the shallot-chanterelle-wine mixture cooks down.
When the sauce is thickening but still contains a fair amount of liquid, add the browned chicken (the good stuff in the pan can be deglazed with a little wine and added along with the chicken) and simmer until the chicken is fully cooked.  The meat absorbs the flavor.
The flour is used to thicken the finished sauce; it can either be sprinkled lightly over the mixture and stirred in until the sauce gets a little dry, or a roux can be made in a separate pan or skillet (heat a little extra butter until bubbly; add the flour and cook for a few minutes without letting the mixture brown) and then added back into the main mixture.
After the sauce is thickened, add cream to taste (I like it to be a gravy-like consistency) and serve it over pasta.  (Pasta Plus’s fresh linguine is my favorite.)

This is a traditional autumn recipe in my house, and I always pair it with an oaked Chardonnay which complements the savory woody notes of the mushrooms.  I recommend Stangeland for an Oregon Chardonnay (oaky but also floral and subtle with some crispness left), or J. Lohr’s Riverstone or Arroyo Vista Chardonnays for Californiawine.

Pear and Blue Cheese Salad

I also always accompany the Chanterelle Chicken with a pear/blue-cheese salad.  Any pear of your choice can be sliced or cubed, topped with small pieces of blue cheese (I love the Fourme D’Ambert, which is sweet and nutty and complements fruit very well), and crushed roasted hazelnuts, covered with a balsamic vinaigrette and served on a bed of greens.

That’s it for now.  Next week we’ll be back with a few other recipes from familiar faces at the Kiva.  In the meantime,  tell us–what do you do with chanterelles?


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