Friday, April 1, 2011

What To Do If You Suddenly Come Into Two Pounds Of Fresh Chanterelles

Last August, I took my wife with me on a weekend tour of western Colorado independent bookstores to promote my books. Neither of us had been to Telluride, and we'd heard it was a very cool town, so we decided to stay there overnight. I have to say that this place is now in my top ten most exquisitely beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable spots on Earth. At the end of a box canyon, with aspens draped all over the towering mountainsides, Telluride is an old western mining town with most of the original buildings fully restored and a very laid back population (of mostly very wealthy people). There is no through traffic. Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank there. It's just an amazing place.

We arrived just as the annual mushroom festival was in full swing, with people from as far away as Pennsylvania swarming the hills foraging for wild mushrooms. We were just there as gawkers (although we're already talking about going back this August to join in the hunt), and there was plenty to gawk at. Nearly everyone came out for the parade down Main Street, wearing all manner of mushroom-related garb, riding on mushroom floats, and generally making a cheerful racket. I'm fairly certain that some mushrooms of the magic variety had been consumed that day by a number of the revelers.

But to get to the point of this story, a couple from the east coast who were staying at our B&B had gathered a massive quantity of various mushrooms, and were busily drying them in the hotel's oven. When it became clear that they weren't going to be able to dry all of them in time for their departure the next morning, they gave us a gigantic bag of chanterelles to take home. Now, I'm a major fan of wild mushrooms, but I had never seen any this fresh and pristine. The next day, we drove home with two pounds in our cooler, and I cooked them up right away.

Back in my butter and cream-eating days, I would have sautéed them in butter and maybe even added some cream, so I was concerned that I might not be able to do these beauties culinary justice without the traditional unguents. As it turned out, my worries were 100% unfounded. After carefully cleaning all the grit off the mushrooms (which, if you've never undertaken this task, I'll tell you it's quite laborious), the rest was a breeze. Believe it or not, I got an incredibly creamy result by first sautéing a fair amount of finely diced shallots in EVOO until they were completely soft before adding the mushrooms. I covered the pan until I could hear the juices flowing out and bubbling, then removed the cover and began flipping the pan to toss them as they finished cooking. A minute before they were done, I added a little salt and pepper, and a splash of Cognac, tipping the pan by the flame to ignite the fumes, and tossing as the juices reduced to form a rich sauce. At the last moment, I added just a squeeze of lemon juice--always a good touch with mushrooms.

Chanterelles aren't even my favorite variety of wild mushroom--I'm more a fan of morels and porcini, in that order--but these were the most succulent, delicious, and yes, creamy mushrooms I have ever prepared. And so easy (after the cleaning part)

So now you know exactly what to do next time someone dumps a couple pounds of just-picked chanterelles in your lap.

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