Riddle me this! What is tasty, golden and springs to life in the drab forest? Chanterelles! Of all the mushrooms to forage during summer and fall in the Hudson Valley, chanterelles are among the most prized jewels in the woods. Their magical appeal is enjoyed the world over for many reasons. They have a great meaty texture, a sweet, buttery flavor that goes beyond basic cultivated mushrooms, and an aroma that rivals the ripest apricot you have ever smelled. Not to mention, you can pick chanterelles by the hoards if you find a nice patch. They’ll come back again and again throughout the season as long as the rain and temperature cooperate.

What are chanterelles?

Chanterelles are golden looking, golden tasting and golden priced. They come in many shapes, sizes and species. Forty species, to be exact. In European and Asian varieties, the cap typically grows to the size of a thumb. Meanwhile, the ones found in the Hudson Valley have caps that can grow to the size of a fist.

The cap is fleshy, with wavy, rounded edges that taper downward to meet the stem. The gills are not the usual thin, straight panels you’ll see under the cap of most store-bought mushrooms. Instead, the ridges are rounded, blunt, shallow and widely spaced. At the edge of the cap, the gills are forked and interconnected.

Delving into the chanterelle family tree, let’s take a look at the black trumpet mushroom. This is known as “La Trompette de Mort”, or trumpet of death, in French…which sounds a lot scarier than it should since they are safe to eat. Black trumpets have some of the most potent flavor of all wild mushrooms. They may be small and frail, but they certainly do pack a powerful, woodsy and deep flavor with a hint of sweetness.

Since these trumpets are hollow, they cook super quickly, unlike their cousin, the golden chanterelle. As soon as they hit a hot pan, they’re pretty much done cooking. Black trumpets pair well with cream, as do most mushrooms. One of my favorite preparations is black trumpet mushroom duxelle, which is finely chopped mushroom cooked with shallots, thyme, garlic and wine or brandy. Black trumpet duxelles is great with venison or as stuffing for beef Wellington.

Chanterelles’ aroma is often described as apricot or peach-like. It is unmistakably different and readily identifiable from other mushrooms. While they pack a punch of flavor, it can get lost when mixed with other foraged mushrooms like morels. For this reason, I like to cook them on their own.

At the end of the day, if you stumble across wild chanterelles or happen to know a forager such as James of Deep Forest Wild Edible, you’re fixing to have a tasty meal no matter the variety. Farm2ChefsTable has a wonderful recipe for Chanterelle on Toast with Corn Pudding & Goat Cheese.

Hunting for the infamous chanterelle

The best way to hunt wild chanterelles is to have a professional forager do it for you. You may even be invited to go along with the forager to learn how to spot them in the woods. James from Deep Forest Wild Edibles offers a great “Introduction to Foraging” walk. There’s really no better way to learn about wild edibles than learning from an expert in Hudson Valley foraging firsthand.

Do-it-yourselfers should proceed with caution. There are a few toxic chanterelle look-a-likes out there. For example, the toxic “wooly chanterelle” is a doppelgänger for the safe-to-eat golden chanterelle. The jack-o-lantern variety also comes to mind. Always consult with a professional forager before consuming any type of wild mushroom — otherwise, you could be in for several unpleasant days of feeling sick.

Jack-O-Lanterns (Toxic, Do Not Consume!)

  • Darker orange than golden chanterelles, which have a more egg-yolk color
  • Grow from a central stem, aka “cespitose”
  • Have actual gills, whereas chanterelle do not
  • May grow directly from wood, which golden chanterelles never do
  • Often grow in clusters or pods, unlike golden chanterelles

Once you find true chanterelles, you’re in luck. They will grow in the same place year after year if carefully harvested. When harvesting, it’s important not to disturb the ground in which the mycelium (the vegetative part of the mushroom) grows. Annual output can vary. Some years there will be more mushrooms, some less. They fruit almost all summer long and into fall in the Hudson Valley.

Chanterelles love oak, beech and maple trees, but are promiscuous in their plant relationships. This is because the chanterelles’ mycelial threads often intertwine with the roots of hardwood trees, conifers, shrubs and bushes. They enjoy deep, old leaf litter.

Chanterelles are pretty insect resistant. And forest animals do not seem to share the same affinity for chanterelles as people do, so more for us. Well, I’ve personally never seen a deer, chipmunk or bear eating chanterelles in the woods, but I suppose you never know. They could very well be enjoying them as much as us humans behind the scenes.

What to look for in chanterelles

If you’re looking to purchase or forage the best chanterelles, here’s what to look for:

  • They should have a fragrant, fruity odor
  • They should be fully intact, not shredded to pieces
  • The color should be gold or apricot
  • They should not be slimy or have dark, decaying spots
  • The gills should not be granular, fragmenting off the fleshy portion of the mushrooms

Cleaning chanterelles

Avoid soaking chanterelles in water. They act like a sponge and soak up all the liquid. Instead, I prefer to dampen a clean kitchen cloth and gently brush off the dirt. This method allows you to caramelize the mushrooms nicely without excess water leaching out as you cook them.

Cooking chanterelles

If this is your first foray into chanterelles, I recommend starting with Chanterelle on Toast with Corn Pudding & Goat Cheese. The Farm2ChefsTable recipe highlights some of the best ingredients that peak in summer: corn and chanterelles.

Chanterelles are very versatile in the kitchen. Here are some tips on how to prepare them:

  • Small chanterelles are best cooked whole for a nice texture and beautiful presentation on your plate.
  • Small, young chanterelles are ideal for pickling, or making into a conserva.
  • When you’re not pickling them, they taste best with some nice brown caramelization. The more color, the better they will taste.
  • Shallots, thyme, garlic and chanterelles are best friends.
  • Older chanterelles might cook up a bit floppy or soft. Instead, chop them up to make a duxelles, or puree them into a creamy soup.
  • Like most wild mushrooms, it’s best to cook them on their own the first few times to get acquainted with their unique flavor.
  • Chanterelles have a delicate aroma that’s a bit like fruit or apricots, so keep this in mind when you’re planning your meal.