I went a-pickin’ this week. It’s been a disastrous fall mushroom season in the Pacific Northwest, depending on your point of view. Hot temps the last two weeks of August followed by drought in September burned the primordia where it emerged from the duff, resulting in major crop failure for Cascade Mountain porcini, matsutake, and lobster mushrooms. Chanterelle patches burned and then partially recovered, owing to their long growth cycle, but some patches never produced while others are substantially reduced.
The most experienced commercial pickers and buyers, on the other hand, are making bank from the poor conditions. Prices are high and those who know where to go are lining their wallets. I joined a commercial picker friend earlier this week and loaded up on both golden and white chanterelles, porcini, hedgehogs, and a few matsutake, which are just starting to fruit in the coastal patches of Washington.
It’s rained a lot in the past week and chanterelle pickers are advised to get ’em quick. Patches that were in good shape a week ago are now maybe 50-50, with big soggy flowers becoming the majority. (Sounds like the U.S. Congress.) Check out this picture below. There are maybe four dozen prime curled-cap goldens in the frame, perfect for the table. If you’re into giant water-logged blooms, be my guest. We left them all behind.
And here’s a very cool fairy ring of white chanterelles that I found near the goldens. These were in perfect condition despite their large size and probably weighed a few pounds all by themselves.
Back home I had a geoduck on hand from my shellfish farmer friend John Adams at Sound Fresh Clams & Oysters, so I made a quick Kung Pao with snap peas. The shrooms I decided to cook separately as a side dish. You know how at Chinese restaurants you get mushrooms in a silky smooth sauce? It’s no secret—just corn starch. I used porcini, hedgehogs, chanterelles, shiitake, and enoki mushrooms, the latter two varieties purchased at my handy Mekong Market down the street.
This recipe is based on one by Fuchsia Dunlop. My changes included the use of duck fat and soy sauce.
1 lb mixed mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp peanut oil
3 tbsp duck fat
1 heaping tbsp garlic, minced
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 tsp corn starch combined with
2 tsp soy sauce
salt, to taste
1. Heat peanut oil and duck fat wok over high flame until nearly smoking. Stir in garlic and cook until almost golden. Don’t burn! Add mushrooms (if using enoki, put aside until later) and stir well. Cook a few minutes, then add enoki and cook another minute or so.
2. Add chicken stock. Bring to boil. Stir in mixture of corn starch and soy sauce. Continue to cook, stirring, until sauce thickens. Season to taste.
The final dish is a tender umami bomb—the ideal accompaniment to a spicy meat dish.