Chanterelle Foraging + Wild Mushroom Ragout

Chanterelles

After three months of beautiful summer weather, the first few weeks of fall in Cascadia typically see the temperatures drop, the days shorten and the rains begin. This year we’ve been lucky to enjoy a prolonged summer and the sun breaks have been more abundant than most years. But the rain is inevitable and we’ve had our fair share of wet days in the last two weeks. With the snow on Mount Rainier reaching further down the shoulders of the mountain and Halloween approaching, the change of seasons spells one thing—mushrooms!

For the past ten years our family has been enthusiastic foragers. In spring we search for morels while summer hikes have us on the lookout for boletes (porcini), but when the fall rains begin it’s time for chanterelles. Every year we pack our rain gear and head into the woods. Unlike the other mushrooms we gather, chanterelles are relatively easy to find and make a great introduction to the world of foraging. If conditions are right, it’s not hard to come home with ten or more pounds to share with friends and neighbors.

Before coming to Seattle, I had never foraged anywhere other than my local farmer’s market. But while wondering what inexpensive outdoor activity to do between backpacking and cross-country skiing, my wife and I decided to give it a try and we’ve been hooked ever since. We’re not exactly hard core foragers, but there is something rewarding about gathering a gourmet ingredient while enjoying the outdoors. And now that we have two daughters, the younger of which went on her first hunt last weekend, going into the forest for mushrooms is one of our most cherished family outings. Sure, we probably spend more on gas and time than the mushrooms are worth, but it’s hard to put a price on the fun we’ve had together as a family over the years.

Here is a recipe we always enjoy during chanterelle season. It calls for a mix of wild mushrooms, but if you’ve been out with your family and have a basket full of chanterelles, it’s great with just chanterelles.

Wild Mushroom Ragout with Creamy Polenta
Adapted from Geoffrey Zakarian

Ragout

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 pound chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, trimmed and halved
1/4 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thickly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup chicken stock
2 large thyme sprigs

Polenta

2 cups whole milk
2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup polenta or grits
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped marjoram
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large, deep skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add half of the shallots and garlic and all of the chanterelles and oyster mushrooms and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 6 minutes. Scrape the mushrooms onto a plate.

In the same skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the remaining shallots and garlic along with the shiitake mushrooms and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally until softened and golden, about 6 minutes. Return all of the mushrooms to the skillet, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the rich chicken stock and thyme sprigs to the skillet and simmer for 5 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs.

In a large saucepan, combine the milk, stock and butter and bring to a boil. Whisk in the polenta and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until thick, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream, mascarpone, herbs and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon the polenta onto plates, top with the mushroom ragout and serve right away, passing more grated Parmesan at the table.

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