Autumn. As nature is preparing to take a rest, an exciting and vibrant community is coming to life – the community of mushrooms.
Greeks believed mushrooms came from Zeus’s lightning, as they appeared inexplicably after rains. However, as we have learned much later, at the root of the issue lies mycelium, an underground network of roots that gives rise to a myriad of varieties of mushroom species. Some are for our eyes only, but others are made to delight taste buds as much as the eyes. One such variety is chanterelle.
These beautiful orange trumpets inhabit the woodlands that offer a balance of warmth and humidity, and they often appear in the vicinity of oak, birch, maple or poplar trees.
At the start, chanterelles seem well hidden under the fading grass, however, once the eyes get accustomed to their habitat, large neighbourhoods of families appear, dotted over the landscape.
Gradually, the nose also begins to register their fragrant, buttery aromas with shades of apricot and peach, attempting to entice, with increasing enthusiasm, to stop and pay attention.
Upon a closer inspection, a chanterelle mushroom reveals a wavy cap that resembles a trumpet with a sunken centre. The cap is surrounded by a number of straight panels that run along the stem and merge together somewhere halfway down. These panels are there to produce spores.
Chanterelle caps, particularly of the wild varieties, are often decorated with circular patterns. In the Middle Ages, it was believed to have been the work of the “little people” who perform magic dances in the dark of the night.
Chanterelles are a delicacy in many cultures, and their names across the world reflect an extraordinary fascination with this delight.
The word itself, chanterelle, comes from the Greek “kantharos”, which means vase. In Russian, chanterelles are called “lisichki”, which is translated as little foxes. The “pfifferlinge” is a prized possession of German forests and, in British Columbia, they are called “little fish gills” mushrooms, and, as the name might suggest, are often eaten with fish.
They are delicious fresh but can also be dried or pickled. Dried chanterelles are a good source of fibre to stimulate digestion as well as calcium to strengthen the bones. It is one of the few foods that contains vitamin D. Their most immediate flavour affinity is garlic, shallots, cream, white wine and herbs, which makes them perfect for sauces, soups stews, gravies and roasts.
Fresh chanterelles offer a meaty, almost chewy texture and a lovely, fruity aroma. To prepare them, cut the long stem halfway and brush off gently the moss with a paper towel; gentle knife motions can be deployed too to get into the twisted nooks of the cap.
Sizzle them in a hot pan with butter, pinch of salt, sage or thyme. Make sure to avoid disturbing them too much, or crowding the pan, so that they can easily get rid of the water. As they cook, chanterelles will change into lovely caramel jackets, which is a good sign of a succeeding flavour. Now, add a dollop of crème fraîche or cream to deglaze the goodness off the pan and to create a rich and velvety sauce.
Serve it over rice or pasta, or Spätzle with a drizzle of lemon and a sprinkle of cheese. Equally, pile them on toast or pair with meat or eggs. For a luxurious combination, arrange them on top of pan-seared scallops or prawns. A true autumn delight!
Dr. Irina Mikhailava, a chef and a good food champion, happily residing in the Algarve and eating all over the world with an appetite for learning, sharing and writing. Instagram: incompanyoffood