One of the best things about Portland is its close proximity to nature. We can go from a forest hike to a fancy dinner in a matter of minutes.
But when your brisk nature walk takes you through a chanterelle mushroom patch, you can make that fancy meal right at home.
Chanterelles are one of the Pacific Northwest’s prettiest, and prettiest-named, wild mushrooms. Golden yellow with a slightly ruffled cap and elegant stem, they keep their meaty texture when cooked, and have a lovely delicate flavor that’s hard to describe — a little fruity, a little earthy, and a whole lot delicious.
Lucky for us, this region is blessed with the two most important ingredients for a robust chanterelle habit — plenty of rain and miles of conifer forests. That means there’s no shortage of chanterelles around these parts, so they don’t cost an arm and a leg here like they do in California. They’re usually around $12 to $15 per pound (sometimes as low as $9) at farmers markets and grocery stores with strong local connections like New Seasons. But if you know where to go, you can get them for free.
Every fall, after the first big rainstorms soak the ground, the golden trumpets start popping up through the duff on the forest floor. The Tillamook State Forest to the west and the Mount Hood National Forest to the east are both prime hunting grounds. Look around the base of coniferous trees, like Douglas Fir or Hemlock.
But before you lace up your hiking boots, check to see whether or not the area you’re heading to requires a permit for foraging (Mt. Hood does). And if you’ve never foraged for mushrooms before, you should first head out with an experienced guide to make sure you pick the right ones. Chanterelles are pretty safe, since they don’t have a poisonous lookalike, but false chanterelles, which have a more circular cap and thinner gills rather than deep ridges, can cause a pretty serious belly ache.
Although chanterelles are common, they’re still highly prized, which is why people are loathe to share the locations of their favorite foraging spots. But while the rest of us are competing with each other on public lands, Wendi has it easy. She gets to pick all she wants from the land on her mom’s farm near Yachats.
For those times when a generous friend shares her haul, you strike it rich yourself, or just want to splurge a little, try making this super-simple, super-deluxe chanterelle cream.
The mushrooms are sauteed in browned butter to bring out their nutty side, and then simmered in heavy cream. Shallots, a tiny bit of garlic, and some fresh thyme are classic flavorings that won’t overpower their flavor. It’s versatile enough to be spread on toasts for an appetizer (hello holiday party!) or tossed with pasta for a main dish.
And we can think of no better incentive to take a walk in the woods.
Brown Butter and Chanterelle Cream (for toasts or pasta)
Makes about 2 cups
The simplicity of this dish allows the mild flavor of chanterelles to hold its own. It somehow manages to be both delicate and rich at the same time. Keep in mind that the mushrooms really cook down. You’ll have plenty to spread on a large platter of toasts for appetizers, but if you’re going the entree route, it’s really only enough to coat about 1/2 pound of pasta. If you’re planning to serve more than yourself and a very lucky companion, you’ll have to double it. A word to the wise: Don’t use “light cream” or half and half. Only heavy cream can be simmered until thickened without it breaking.
4 tablespoons butter
1 pound chanterelles, cleaned and roughly chopped
1 large shallot, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup vermouth or white wine, or as needed
½ cup heavy cream
Grated parmesan, for serving
1 baguette, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices and toasted
1/2 pound pasta, such as campanelle
1 tablespoon potato starch (optional; see note)
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan set over medium heat. Keep a bowl or measuring cup with a small fine-mesh strainer near the stove. Allow the butter to cook, stirring occasionally, until it smells nutty and the milk solids turn brown. Remove from heat and strain through the strainer over the bowl. Use a spatula to scrape as much of the brown bits out of the pan and into the strainer as you can.
Wipe the pan with a paper towel (any browned butter bits left in the pan may burn). Set over medium-high heat and add the melted butter (save the browned butter bits in the strainer for later). Add the shallots and sauté until tender. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add the mushrooms and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Saute until mushrooms are tender and have given off their liquid. Add the vermouth and stir to scrape up any brown stuff in the bottom of the pan (you can add more, if necessary, to get the whole pan deglazed). Cook until vermouth has mostly evaporated. Stir in the cream and browned butter bits. Simmer until mixture is thickened and saucy. Taste and season with more salt, pepper and thyme, if desired.
At this point, you can spoon the mixture onto toasts and garnish with fresh thyme and a little shredded cheese if desired. Or turn it into a sauce for pasta.
To make pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions until al dente. Scoop out and reserve about 1/2 cup of pasta water. Drain the pasta. Add the cooked pasta to the pan with the mushrooms, along with about ¼ cup of the pasta water. (Stir 1 tablespoon of potato starch into the pasta water for a truly silky sauce.) Stir to coat. Add more pasta water, a little at a time, if necessary, to make the mixture loose and saucy enough to coat the pasta.
Divide among 2 or 3 bowls and top with grated parmesan.
Note: When I make “sauceless” pastas like this, I use a little potato starch dissolved in broth or water to help the mixture coat the noodles. I love potato starch (a common thickener in Europe) because it’s silkier than cornstarch and more neutral in flavor. It’s similar to arrowroot, but cheaper. Thankfully it’s easy to find at supermarkets thanks to Bob’s Red Mill. (I don’t use it in gravies, though, because it’ll end up looking oddly translucent rather than opaque.)