Monthly Archives: October 2008

White Chanterelles

Chanterelle season is winding down here in WA state. The coast is still kicking some out, but with low temps and more rain they’re not the firm, dry chants of earlier. In a couple weeks I’ll head south to the Rogue River Canyon country of southwest Oregon to catch the last gasp of the PNW ‘shroom harvest (and maybe a steelhead or two), then it’s time to put away the basket and start cooking all sorts of winter comfort foods with the fungal stash.

One of my favorites for hearty meat dishes and pasta sauces is the white chanterelle. Everyone is familiar with the golden chanterelle in its many guises (Cantharellus formosus, Cantharellus cibarius, et al), known as girolle in France and pfifferling in Germany. In the Pacific Northwest we’re blessed with another species of Cantharellus that some consider even tastier, the white chanterelle (Cantharellus subalbidus).

White chants are found on both sides of the Cascades in similar habitat as goldens, although in drier climates they’re often the dominant chanterelle. They tend to grow in clusters beneath the duff and often require excavation. My own experience suggests that white chanterelles are even more delicious than their golden cousins. They’re more aromatic (despite what Mykoweb says), meatier, and seem to endure more prolonged storage in the fridge. I save whites for my favorite dishes.

Chicken with Boozy Chanterelle Sauce

Here’s one adapted from Jane Grigson’s Mushroom Feast, which she calls Poulet aux Girolles. You can eyeball the amounts according to your own tastes. Mrs. Finspot likes this recipe because it’s not necessary to use a lot of cream to get good flavor.

2 lbs chicken thighs
1 lb white chanterelles (or goldens), chopped
2 shallots, diced
chicken stock
heavy cream

Brown chicken on both sides in a few tablespoons of butter, then add diced shallots. Cook until shallots are soft and translucent. Deglaze with a good splash of cognac (1/4 cup or so) and turn chicken again, then pour a splash of port (again, around a 1/4 cup). Scrape pan well so all the chicken bits are mixed into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Add a 1/4 cup or more of stock and stir, then an equal amount of cream. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for a half-hour. Meanwhile in another pan, saute chanterelles in butter over medium-high heat, careful not to overcook. When the chicken is fully cooked and tender, remove to a covered dish. Raise heat and cook sauce down as desired, adding chanterelles for final minute or two of cooking. Lay chicken over rice pilaf and pour sauce over. Serves 2, with leftovers.

P.S. Apologies for the lame photo below. My main light source in the house, an old standup lamp, was summarily kicked over and stomped by the drunken midgets that routinely take this place by storm (i.e. the kids). This year I’m asking Santa for a digital SLR so I can banish these low-light dinnertime blues once and for all.

The Shaggy Parasol

Warning: this is a wonky post, and while it might bore some readers, it also explains why mycology is an excellent discipline for the budding biologist. The study of mushrooms and other fungi is accelerating quickly now that we have genetic testing tools. There are huge strides to be made in simply categorizing mushrooms across North America. Many well-known species—well known by their common names, that is—still carry Latin names borrowed from their European look-alikes. For instance, I fully expect our many species of morels to go through radical changes in nomenclature in the not-too-distant future. Such work is exciting for scientists. Even more exciting: there are many species left to discover and name.

In the past couple weeks the mushroom pictured above has been fruiting all over western Washington. Commonly known as a shaggy parasol, it goes by the Latin name of Chlorophyllum olivieri, and apparently it’s quite common in the PNW as the fall weather turns colder.

There are now three species of shaggy parasol that used to be lumped into a single species (in a different genus) called Lepiota rhacodes (also spelled rachodes). This species was moved from Lepiota to the Macrolepiota genus, and now, thanks to DNA sequencing, it resides in Chlorophyllum, where it’s been split into three different species: Chlorophyllum rhacodes, Chlorophyllum brunneum, and Chlorophyllum olivieri. Interestingly, Chlorophyllum is home to the mushroom that poisons more people annually in North American than any other, Chlorophyllum molybdites, or green-spored parasol. Here’s a quick overview of the naming musical chairs.

Though known as choice edibles, the shaggy parasols are viewed with suspicion. It may be that, as with Leccinums, a small percentage of the human population is allergic to them. Or there might be a culprit in the trio that is responsible for most of the poisonings. No one knows.

I’ve eaten parasols before without incident, so my plan is to saute these for a mushroom soup. You don’t see them in the market much because they don’t travel well. If you do come across an “edible” parasol for the first time, remember to sample a small bite to make sure you’re not one of the few unlucky ones who becomes violently ill from this beautiful fungus. (Top photo by Damien Murphy.)

Beef Wellington with Lobster Duxelles

Now that you’ve mastered duxelles with lobster mushrooms, here’s an elegant old-timey recipe to put those duxelles to work: Beef Wellington. Don’t make this dish, however, if you’re not willing to pony up for top-drawer ingredients. You need a beef tenderloin and bona-fide pâté de foie gras; a lesser cut of meat and cheap pâté will compromise the Wellington beyond repair. That said, I do urge you to make one life-saving short-cut: buy frozen puff pastry.

For a small Wellington that will easily feed four, you can get away with a tenderloin that’s 1.5 pounds. You’ll also need:

olive oil
4 oz pâté de foie gras
1 egg, beaten
1 lb lobster mushrooms (or buttons)
1 large shallot
1 cup heavy cream
cognac (optional)
parsley, chopped
1 sheet puff pastry
beef stock (for gravy)
madeira wine (for gravy)

Note: The duxelles can be made a few days in advance.

1. Season the meat with salt and pepper, brown quickly in a hot skillet with olive oil, then set aside to cool. Now get your puff pastry out of the freezer to defrost; you’ll need one sheet.

2. Make your lobster duxelles while the puff pastry is defrosting. Finely chop shallot and mushrooms, saute in butter, season, deglaze with cognac, stir in heavy cream to taste, and garnish with chopped herbs. (Click here for detailed recipe and images.)

3. Spread a thin layer of foie gras on the pastry, leaving an inch untouched on all sides, then spoon duxelles over the foie gras. Place the tenderloin in the middle and then tightly wrap the pastry around it, folding the edges. Brush egg on the folds, then roll the Wellington over onto a greased baking tin and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

4. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Remove the Wellington from the refrigerator and brush all surfaces with egg before putting in oven. Bake 10 minutes, then lower temp to 375 and bake another 15 minutes or until pastry is golden. Remove from oven and allow to sit 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

5. Make a gravy while Wellington is cooling. Reduce equal parts beef stock and madeira, then finish with a knob of butter.

Serve with potatoes and a green vegetable. And a good cabernet!

Hints: Make sure your puff pastry hasn’t defrosted too much (and gotten soft and gooey) before spreading foie gras and duxelles. Also, make sure your duxelles and beef are cool during this step to prevent puff pastry from tearing.

About the lobster mushrooms: The season is just about over in the PNW, but you can still find them along the sides of old logging roads and elsewhere where the duff composition is good. If you see lots of Russula brevipes, then you have a good chance of finding lobsters. And once you find one, look carefully in the vicinity because there will usually be others lurking under the duff nearby. Here’s a video illustrating lobster mushroom habitat along a mountain biking trail.

Oyster Po’ Boys and Beer for Everyone!

My friends and fellow oyster lovers, as a finalist candidate in the Great Oyster Decider Election of ’08, I’m asking for your vote in the upcoming election, sponsored by, so I can win four dozen fresh Puget Sound oysters. I promise to fete my supporters with Oyster Po’ Boys and Beer ’til the cows come home. Just stop on by Oyster Headquarters in Seattle’s lovely Mt. Baker neighborhood. Now that’s a promise, y’hear!

Vote early…and often!

I'm a Finalist in the Marx Foods Oyster Contest

Cauliflower of the Woods

Mycophagists are nearly unanimous in their love of Sparassis crispa, the cauliflower mushroom. It’s cool to look at and tastes great, provided you cook it long enough. Cleaning can sometimes be a chore, with needles and dirt clods sneaking into all those folds, but for the most part it fruits above the fray at the base of trees and doesn’t collect too much of the forest floor.

Cauliflower mushrooms can be quite large—a 20-pounder was collected on a recent PSMS foray to Deception Pass State Park near Anacortes, WA—so it’s an exciting find for the pot hunter. This one pictured below, only a few pounds, came from a patch of old-growth fir and hemlock near Mt. Rainier. I don’t find many of these mushrooms. Older forests are probably a good bet for habitat. A professional forager told me about a spot on the Olympic Peninsula loaded with cauliflower; it’s on my long list of hunting locales to visit.

If you’ve noticed that the cauliflower might be more aptly named the day-old-clump-of-egg-noodles-stuck-in-the-collander mushroom, then you’re already halfway toward an understanding of how to cook it. In fact, I like to substitute cauliflowers in recipes that call for egg noodles. It’s ideal for a beef stew because you can cook the mushroom in the stew, then scoop it out as the bedding that the stew will be poured on.

Beef Stew over Sparassis

This is a basic (read: classic) stew recipe, codified by Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything. You can make any number of changes to this recipe, from the stock to the spices to the veggies, to make it more interesting. Ingredient amounts are largely up to you. As far as I know, Mr. Bittman hasn’t tried it over cauliflower mushroom.

1-2 lbs. stew beef, cubed
2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 large yellow onions, cut up
2-3 tbsp flour
2-3 cups beef or chicken stock
5-6 large carrots, cut up
3-4 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3-4 stalks of celery, cut up
1-2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 lb cauliflower mushroom, cleaned and cut into smaller clumps

Using a heavy pot or dutch oven, brown the beef all over in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil, then remove from pan with slotted spoon. Cook the onions for a few minutes, then add the flour and cook another minute or two, stirring. Pour in the stock along with the bay leaf and thyme and add the beef back in. Stir well. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer half an hour, covered. Add the carrots and potatoes. After an hour, add the celery and the cauliflower mushroom. Cook covered until tender. Season to taste. Before serving, scoop out the cauliflower mushroom and divide into bowls; ladle stew over mushroom.

Fried Chicken Mushroom

That’s no joke. Lyophyllum decastes is commonly known as the fried chicken mushroom, and the answer is Yes, it does taste a little like fried chicken—at least to me it does, although Wildman Steve Brill begs to differ. It’s greasy like fried chicken and a little bit chewy. The stems are fibrous, so you’re better off using just the caps. I floured mine and pan-fried in butter. Pretty simple.

Fried chicken mushrooms grow in clumps (sometimes huge clumps of several pounds or more) in disturbed areas. They’re common along roadsides, but beware: these same roadsides are often sprayed with herbicides and other nasty chemicals which get biomagnified by the mushroom; make sure you pick these in safe areas.

Salmon Sashimi

We’re taking a break from the forced mushroom march at FOTL to enjoy a stellar lunch of silver salmon sashimi. I caught an immature silver and decided it would be put to better use raw. Normally I toss the younguns back, but this one was bleeding profusely from what looked like a mortal hook-wound, so I added it to the punch-card.

1 cup sushi rice
rice vinegar to taste
1 small salmon fillet, deboned
pinch or two of fresh ginger, minced
pinch or two of toasted sesame seeds
pinch or two of chives, chopped
pinch or two of cilantro, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup soy sauce
ponzu sauce (or make your own: 2 tbsp soy sauce plus 2 tsp fresh lime, lemon, or orange juice, or combination)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp sesame oil

Make the sushi rice. While it’s cooking, wrap your salmon fillet and place in freezer for five minutes. Prepare minced ginger, chopped chives and cilantro, and ponzu sauce (if necessary). Remove salmon from freezer and using very sharp fillet knife, slice into sashimi strips, cutting in one direction (no sawing). Season rice with vinegar, wet hands, and form two hockey puck-sized patties, and set aside on plates. Place salmon strips in bowl with soy sauce. In small saucepan, heat oils until smoking. Drain salmon and pile on top of rice patties. Sprinkle with ginger and chives. Spoon a tablespoon or so of hot oil over salmon to sear it. Spoon a tablespoon or so of ponzu sauce over salmon. Garnish with cilantro and sesame seeds. Serves 2, with rice to spare.

That Scabrous Bolete

I knew I was on the right track. Off in the woods the voices of Eastern Europeans sing-songed back and forth. A moment later two lanky men came bounding down the mountain with full grocery bags. “We are finding the porcini,” one of them admitted to me warily. I continued up. On top of the ridge the forest gave way to the stumps of an old clearcut and the dense growth of new firs. Huckleberry bushes glowed red in slanting afternoon light. More voices and a rustling of brush. A trio burst out of the undergrowth and landed on the trail in front of me. They looked like they’d just stepped off a Hollywood set for some low-budget gypsy movie: two stout women with heavily lined faces attired in peasant dresses and kerchiefs; an older man, sinewy and graying. They all held 5-gallon buckets piled high with giant mushrooms. A moment of indecision. They were surprised to see me and looked ready to flee. “Mushrooms,” I said, stating the obvious, and they nodded furtively. I wanted to take their picture but thought better of it. We all looked at each other some more and then they eased their way back into the bush and out of sight.

Eastern Europeans are mad about mushrooms. Those who immigrate to this country must think they’ve woken up in heaven, because there is so much porcini and so little competition. They pick huge amounts of several species that the rest of us ignore, or mostly ignore. Like these scabrous Leccinums, so named because of the diagnostic scabers on the stem.

Scabrous. Doesn’t sound too delectable. Would you eat a mushroom with “scrabous tufts” on it? In fact, this is how mycologists describe the raised bumps on the stem of Leccinum mushrooms. The genus Leccinum is a member of that same bolete family that boasts so many globally famous edibles, including the porcini of Italy. But they are not the equal of the king bolete, Boletus edulis. I like to dry Leccinums to concentrate the flavor, then grind them up into powder to enhance soups and stews. When cooked fresh in the pan they will often turn an unappetizing gray—or even black in an iron skillet. Their texture is not as firm as the king bolete, their flavor not as pleasing. But the Poles and Russians and Czechs and a host of other nationalities across Eastern Europe gobble them down anyway. These boletivores just can’t get enough of their beloved Bolitaceae.

Here’s what‘s Michael Kuo says about Leccinums:

…while recognizing that a bolete is a Leccinum is usually relatively easy, figuring out what species you have found can be truly frustrating. In fact, if you are a North American collector at this point in time, it is probably not possible to identify most Leccinum species with scientific certainty… If this reality frustrates you, I’m sorry–but try looking at it this way: this is an exciting time to be collecting Leccinum, and amateur mushroomers and mushroom clubs are in a position to make substantial and important contributions to mycology.

According to a mycologist who identifies mushrooms for the Puget Sound Mycological Society, the Leccinums at the top are all Leccinum aurantiecum, one of the better edibles in the genus. I’m pretty sure I’ve been eating this one for a number of years, along with another species called Leccinum manzanitae, which may well be represented by the next image below the top, one of the many Leccinums I found in the vicinity of Vaccinium and in the company of those Eastern Europeans. However, if you read through Kuo’s remarks, you’ll see there is much debate about the nomenclature. Happily, all the Leccinums are edible, if not all delicious—with one important caveat: it seems a small percentage of the population at large, for reasons not entirely understood, is allergic to the mushrooms in this genus. As with any wild fungi landing on your plate for the first time, try a small portion first.

The firm buttons in the top photo got sauteed for a red sauce, while the larger, more mature mushrooms I sliced up and dried.

A Meal Fit for a King

The admiral is a dandy but the king is…well, the king. Boletus edulis, the king bolete, the true porcino, is always an exciting find.

The more kings I capture, the more I realize how little I know about this mushroom. Here in the PNW we are graced with kings galore. There are spring kings in the Cascades (probably a different species from Boletus edulis, but the DNA sequencing has yet to be done), summer kings high in the mountains near treeline, and fall kings from below freezing all the way to sea level, from mountains to coast. The fall kings are the most flavorful; their nutty taste permeates whatever ingredients you use.

In my experience, if I find Amanita muscaria in numbers, Boletus edulis is often nearby. Both in the Rockies and Cascades I’ve stumbled onto huge fruitings of the two species in the same habitat, with individuals sometimes nearly touching cap to cap.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I like to eat. To eat well. And especially, to eat well without getting all technical. Here’s a rich recipe that’s perfect for the tuckered out fungi forager at the end of the day, when you’ve spent thousands of calories in search of the king and could care less about piling them back on, the sort of pasta dish that’s started with a pot of water on the boil and ended when the noodles are al dente—about 10 minutes from start to finish. Yet I guarantee you it will taste like a heavenly creation from the best of Italian retsaurants.

Porcini in Cream Sauce over Pasta

1 knob butter
1-2 shallots, diced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large king bolete, chopped
dry vermouth
salt and pepper
heavy cream
1 lb. pasta
parmesan for grating
parsley, chopped

1. Get that pot on the boil. Meanwhile, as the water’s heating up, finely chop a couple shallots (or an equivalent amount of yellow onion if that’s what you have on hand) and saute in butter. Mince a clove or two of garlic and add to the saute. Chop up a large porcino or a few buttons and add to the saute, cooking for 5 minutes or so over medium-high and stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Deglaze with a splash of vermouth, then reduce heat to medium-low and stir in heavy cream to taste. The pasta should be nearly done. Drain pasta and serve. Pour porcini cream sauce over pasta, then sprinkle generously with grated parmesan cheese and a pinch of chopped parsley.

Not only is this an ideal meal for the weary mushroom hunter, it’s also a fine lazy day repast to go with the Sunday papers and all the wonderful news in the world.

Here are a few other king bolete recipes from previous posts:

What would you do with 48 oysters?

To commemorate the onset of another oyster season, Marx Foods is offering four dozen of the sublime bivalves to the winner of its latest contest. All you need to do is leave a comment on their contest page saying what you’d do with 48 oysters. The winner will be voted by readers. The contest runs through October 19; polling will be from the 21st to 24th at noon, and a winner will be announced on October 27th.