Monday, July 19, 2010

A Fine Mess

I don’t have many recipes using chanterelles, or any wild mushrooms, for that matter. My default method, which can hardly be improved upon, is this: Saute in an ample amount of good butter. Serve with soft scrambled eggs or a simple omelet, or on toast. Some salt is necessary, pepper optional. Shallots and onions go well with wild mushrooms; I employ garlic very carefully, as it can overwhelm the unique fungal flavor. At the end of cooking a slosh of sherry or wine, a lashing of cream, these rarely harm the dish. As for herbs, thyme and parsley are all I would recommend. The other best way to eat wild mushrooms is to toss them in to roast along with a chicken for the last half hour.

But sometimes one can encounter mushrooms like chanterelles in abundance:

And when, after a few rounds of the simple treatment, one’s craving for pure mushroom flavor has been sated, one can start to experiment a bit, combine the mushrooms with other seasonal elements.

This bulgur-based dinner salad was inspired by--indeed, provisioned by--three of my favorite places: Lake Superior; the farmers’ market; the Wisconsin woods. One of our rites of spring for many years now has been the first dinner of Fish, Farm, & Forage. That usually involves a brown trout I have caught, some oyster mushrooms picked from a streamside log, and some of the first greens from our garden--young turnip greens or kale, say. This one is a mid-summer, wider-ranging version of Fish, Farm, & Forage.

The lovely little farmers’ market in Dallas, Wisconsin, provided most of the vegetables, and the smoked herring was from
Halvorson Fisheries in Cornucopia. Wood sorrel, which I mentioned in the recent chowder post, grows just everywhere out here--and in our city gardens, too. It is a wild edible anyone can get hold of in this part of the world. Google it for pictures and descriptions. Here are a couple shots of Bide-A-Wee product:

The leaf clusters of three heart-shaped leaflets are about an inch across. For much of the summer what you'll notice first are the bright, cheery yellow flowers. Those are starting to recede now as the plants go to seed.

The chanterelles were not found on our land, but in a Wisconsin woods that I've been harvesting for some years. The funny thing is, I first started scouting this particular spot thinking I might find morels there. As it happens, it's the utterly wrong habitat for morels, but I had the right intuition in thinking that the place felt "'shroomy." And indeed, from mid-summer through autumn it is very, very 'shroomy indeed, producing chanterelles, boletus varieties, some oysters, hen of the woods, sulfur shelf, hedgehog, puffballs, and, to date, exactly one lobster mushroom (that I have found; actually, Mary found it, a couple of years ago).

What sort of habitat is this, then: Among oaks, on rocky slopes, in areas with sandy soil. At least that’s where I find them, and the nice thing is, chanterelles tend to occur in areas where there’s very little growing on the forest floor. Between the thick layer of oak leaves, the steep terrain, the poor soil, not much else gets a foothold there. So don’t waste your time and torture yourself rooting around in thick vegetation, getting stung by nettles and covered in burrs. Although--they do occur near stands of nettles; go down the slope from where the nettles live. Right in the Twin Cities there are spots along the riverbanks that fit this description. And I’ve been finding them on west-facing slopes, FWIW.

You could vary the vegetables in a salad like this, using whatever’s in season. Decide whether the veg need blanching, full cooking, or nothing. I could see adding a bit of diced apple, thin-sliced radish, blanched green beans, diced, salted, drained cukes. You could change the base, as well, turning it into a rice or wild rice salad. Couscous, absolutely. Sure to impress at the next summer pot luck.

Chanterelle Smoked Herring Bulgur Salad
serves two

1 cup bulgur
1 ½ cups boiling water

Rinse the bulgur in cold water and drain. Put it in a saucepan or a bowl with a cover; add the boiling water, cover, and allow to sit at least 30 minutes. Pour the bulgur into a seive and let it drain thoroughly. This makes more than you'll need for this salad; the leftover bulgur would make a taboulleh lunch for one.

7 or 8 good-sized chanterelles, quartered
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 shallot or small sweet onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 pinches salt

A “good-sized” chanterelle, to me, is one that’s 2 ½ to 3 inches tall, and the same size across the cap. Clean up the chanterelles--a pastry brush is good for removing minor dirt and grime. If the mushrooms are dirty enough to need washing, by all means do so; nothing spoils the pleasure of eating wonderful wild fungi more than the grating crunch of sand between your teeth.

Either prepare the chanterelles immediately before mixing the salad, or do ahead, set aside, and reheat just before mixing; deglaze the pan with a bit of the dressing. Heat a small skillet and add the butter. Add the chanterelles and salt, and sauté over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the shallot or onion, cook another minute, then add the garlic and sauté two minutes more, until the mushrooms are just beginning to brown.

2 cups of the drained bulgur
½ cup sugar snap peas, strung, coarsely chopped
½ cup cherry tomatoes, whole or halved
1/3 cup fennel bulb, shaved or sliced very thin crosswise
½ cup wood sorrel leaves (save a few back for garnish)
2 pickled ramps, chopped fine
1 small red onion, sliced very thin

Half a smoked herring (a 12- to 14-inch one) in large flakes, about a cup of flakes(or substitute another smoked fish you like)

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (a berry-flavored vinegar would be good here, too)
¼ cup canola or sunflower oil
2 pinches salt
A few grinds black pepper

Mix everything together 30 minutes before serving.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw


Nate said...

Nothing to add to what sounds like a fantastic recipe except a tip on "quartering" the chanterelles -- I read somewhere that it's faster and easier to simply tear them by pushing your thumb into the sunken top and through towards the stem. It's been such a quick and easy method for me that I've never put a knife to them. Give it a shot and see what you think!

Also - we missed the market last week and made crepes in the style of Mala's "Market Special" with some sauteed chanterelles. The ham plus mushroom flavor was sublime!

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Nate: You're quite right, most wild 'shrooms have a convenient structure allowing them to be ripped into attractive shreds sans knifework, and the ruff-hewn look would have been great in this rustic salad. I hardly ever use a knife on hen-of-the-woods or the big tooth mushrooms I find in autumn.

Your crepes sound great. I actually offered some chanterelles to Mala, but she is wild-fungus-phobic!

I came across a nice little patch of hedgehogs (hydnum repandum) today, along with some nice, big black trumpets...and more chanterelles.

Cheers~ Brett