(This recipe’s gonna be short. Which is good, since it’s great for those last-minute parties where you still want to be a snobby foodie, but don’t have the time to make something complicated.)
It’s winter. It’s raining, and I feel like I haven’t been sufficiently warm or dry in weeks. Generally, I am not a fan of the rain and the wet. I would rather be sweating in immense heat than wrapped in a million blankets and considering baking cookies just so I can turn the oven on and heat up the house a little. It is grey and dark outside. I am trying not to be cranky (cookies help here, too).
That said, rain makes the mushrooms grow. A LOT of rain makes the mushrooms grow A LOT.
For this I am glad. I can look out at the storm and think of the chantarelles poking their little orange caps out of the duff and unfurling into beautiful flower-like plumage, and be grateful.
NOTE: Always be sure of your foraged foods. There are many dangerous look-alike mushrooms/plants/berries/etc out there, and it is better to throw them away than to eat something you are unsure of. Bring an expert with you when you are learning, ALWAYS check for identifying factors even when you’re pretty certain you know what you’ve picked, and with any new food, check for allergies and sensitivities by going easy/light the first time eating something. If you are not comfortable foraging, you can buy wild mushrooms at many grocery stores, farmer’s markets, or even online.
Rick and I went out to our secret chantarelle spot on Wednesday hoping that the recent downpours (coupled with the holiday festivities) might have given the mushrooms a little bit of time to grow without being immediately snatched up by some enterprising forager. It’s a tricky game, foraging so close to home – there are more people looking than there is food to go around, and timing is EVERYTHING. We were either going to get completely skunked, or we were going to find a patch that no one had been to in a while, and hit it big.
This time, it seems events had conspired to send us scrambling through the mud right after a professional harvester had gone through (many people pick chantarelles and other “gourmet” mushrooms for profit, selling them to nearby restaurants and specialty stores). This means a few things:
First, it meant we had our work cut out for us. Many areas had been cleaned pretty thoroughly and we found the marks of where chantarelles HAD been more often than we found the chanties themselves.
Second, it meant that we had a great advantage – professional foragers who are selling their harvest will not keep mushrooms that are not pretty. If they are too hard to clean or are slightly past their prime, they will often be discarded. These are left to rot (and inoculate the ground with their spores for future generations of mushrooms to grow).
Third, it meant we were going to have to go a little farther out than we normally do, finding where the other guys DIDN’T go because it was inconvenient or inefficient from a large-scale business standpoint.
The first sign that we were going to have a good haul was finding several already-cleaned mushrooms sitting by the side of the path. Not the most beautiful specimens – some had holes from slugs and other insects, others were torn or getting a little soft around the edges, but I’m not so picky about these things, and gladly scooped them up.
A good hint: when foraging, keep at least two separate places to store your mushrooms. One for the clean ones (which can be brushed off in the field and the stem cut to remove all external dirt), and one for the ones that will need to be thoroughly washed due to mud, etc. This way the clean ones STAY clean. Also bring a few baggies for taking samples of unknown mushrooms that you want to identify later (but may not be edible) , or for separating different kinds. These practices will save you hours of work in the long run.
High up over the first hill (and through a thicket of berry bushes and poison oak – thank god for Tecnu!), we found where the pros had left off. BINGO.
A few hours later we emerged from the underbrush triumphant: ten pounds of chantarelles! Our hard work and willingness to get *ridiculously* muddy had paid off, and our packs were loaded to the point of overflow.
One of the best secrets in making use of foraged edibles: The ugly-but-still-tasty ones should be cooked first, and cooked small. After a thorough wash and a pat dry, the salvageable bits were chopped and dry-sauteed , mixed with caramelized onions and sour cream, and left for the flavors to meld overnight.
This dip is perfect served on rounds of baguette (I baked some whole wheat/oat baguettes that were pretty spectacular), or with breadsticks, chips, or even veggies! The floral sweetness of the chantarelles mixed with the deep pungency of the onions and the tang of sour cream combine to make a delectable and earthy dip that is a winner on any table.
Chantarelle and Onion Dip
1-2 lbs chantarelles (this is a wet weight, if your mushrooms are dry, you can scale back this amount a bit). It was about 4 cups, raw and chopped, but we made a LOT of dip.
1 large yellow onion
2 Tbsp butter
6-8 c sour cream (you can substitute non-fat yogurt or even yogurt cheese for part or all of this, but it is tastier with more fat in it)
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Chop the chantarelles into small pieces (roughly 1 cm cubes) and put them in a dry skillet over medium heat. They will weep out a lot of water, which should be cooked off until it is nearly all evaporated from the pan. Remove these from the pan and set aside. Melt the butter in the hot pan, and sweat the onion (diced medium-to-fine) until brown and caramelized, adding in the mushrooms at the end of the cooking time. Stir to combine, and allow to cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, combine the sour cream with any yogurt or other milk product of choice until completely incorporated and smooth. Mix in the mushrooms and onions as well as a bit of salt and black pepper (go lightly here – you’ll want to re-season after the dip has had time to age and meld).
Let this dip sit for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator (overnight is better) to let the flavors combine and mature. Re-season with salt and pepper if necessary before serving.
(this dip can also be made with frozen chantarelles, as prepped in this post. Just thaw and mix with the sour cream as written above.)
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