My friend and fellow No'Ala columnist, Sarah Gaede (Food for Thought) gave me these gorgeous chanterelles, which she plucked from her front yard. A couple summers ago our mutual friend Carmen bragged on Facebook about the many, many chanterelles she and her German husband found growing in their backyard. I point out that he's German only because my sister's Czech husband and his family are really into foraging wild mushrooms, so in my simple head, all Europeans know all about edible wild shrooms. Obvi.
My foraging experience is limited. A few springs ago, my sister Catherine and I went hiking through the woods in search of mullen. We found a few plants and dug them up, two of which I replanted in my then new front yard garden after a fellow organic gardener told me it would attract "good" insects. Those mullens fared well, though they were not edible. I also dragged Catherine out to forage for wild onion plants that same spring. "Forage" is a loose term here, given that the long, thin green onions with a white bulb the size of a pea grew all over our mother's yard and along the wooded edge of the lawn. I cooked those onions in chicken stock with potatoes - my foraged take on potato leek soup - and it was supremely disappointing. Once I plucked a few dandelion leaves for salad, and I've often considered cooking up some poke weed, which also grows prolifically in my mother's yard, but I'm hesitant because poke weed (or poke salad) is poisonous and the preparation is tedious. If any readers out there have positive experience with this, like, maybe a decades-proved family recipe, I'd LOVE to hear about it.
Since that spring several years ago, I can't say that I've foraged. My reluctance stems from an innate anxiety (you could call it paranoia) over becoming ill from something I've eaten, and what better way to increase the likelihood of illness than to eat something you found growing in the woods. Or the medicated (fertilized and weed-treated) lawn. To be clear and righteous, my mother's lawn has been med-free for nearly four years now. It's all weeds. With some moss and clover, which are rather attractive and just as rewarding to mow down.
Chanterelles. Aren't they beautiful? That rich golden color is both alarming and inspiring, no? When Sarah handed them to me, Carmen happened to be present and confirmed, after already confirming in the rain, standing over the fungi still living in Sarah's yard, that they were indeed chanterelles. The 'fake chanterelle', Sarah explained, has gills. The real ones are smooth on the stem and underneath the cap. I found some fake chanterelles growing in my mother's weed eden and can attest to the difference in undersides. Real chanterelles also have a faint apricot aroma, Sarah said, which the Larousse Gastronomique confirmed and then recommended cooking them gently and briefly as they will become hard if over cooked.
Both Sarah and Carmen discussed serving the mushrooms with scrambled eggs or an omelet. Larousse recommends the same, stating that it is common practice, which I've inferred is to place emphasis on the nuanced earthy flavors of these delicate gems. Larousse - the definitive culinary encyclopedia - also stated they were a good accompaniment to veal. Hurrah! I said. I've got a pound of veal stew meat that needs to be cooked ASAP. And so I concoted a recipe for my first chanterelles.
Veal Stew with Chanterelles
As usual, my recipes are less recipe than they are sense-cooking from the gut, flavors I throw together that feel like they want to be together. I wanted to keep it simple and I wanted to use the fingerling potatoes I'd bought weeks ago from Jack-O-Lantern Farms, about half of which had grown roots and become too soft to eat. I had fresh sorrel from my overgrown and gorgeous, flowering front yard garden, and fresh parsley, garlic and chicken stock.
1 lb veal stew meat, trimmed of excess fat if necessary
Kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 leek, washed and sliced
4 0r 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoonish ground cumin
1 1/2, maybe 2 cups chicken stock (I just poured it in until it came about 3/4 of the way up the veal chunks, which were almost two inches thick. I did have to boil some of it down to thicken and concentrate the liquid)
6 to 8 fingerling potatoes, not soft, sliced into 3/4 inch rounds
2 big leaves of fresh garden sorrel, coarsely chopped
10 or so leaves of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
About 10 chanterelles of varying size, sliced in half or quartered lengthwise, keeping the stems in tack
Using my favorite 5 1/2 quart cast iron Le Creuset dutch oven, I browned the generously salted veal pieces in the olive oil, removed them from the pot when browned on all sides, added a little more olive oil, and tossed in the leeks and garlic. I lowered the heat and cooked the veggies until just tender, sprinkled in the cumin, added the meat back and poured in the chicken stock, turned the heat to low and simmered the pot for about an hour. By now the meat was tough, as all the moisture had been drawn out by the heat. I added the potatoes and continued to let it simmer for about another hour. Now the meat was perfectly tender, so I added in the herbs, stirred well, and finally, the chanterelles, allowing them to cook for about 12 minutes, maybe 14. When I took the pot off the stove, the mushrooms were firm yet tender, and the earthy aroma that wafted up was divine. I served myself a small bowl, then another slightly larger bowl, and washed it down with a glass of Robert Sinskey's 2013 (elusive, perfect) Vin Gris of Pinot Noir.
This stew was extremely rewarding, and I only felt a tiny bit "funny" after eating it, like maybe I was going to break out in hives, because my skin began to tingle in odd spots around my face and arms. I did not break out in hives and after a few minutes of convincing myself it was all in my head (like I said; paranoid), the tingling sensation went away. Ah, the power of the mind!
The stew was amazing, and I'll cook up more chanterelles if anyone has some they want to share or a lead on where I might dig some up.