by Leda Meredith
Free chanterelle mushrooms growing wild in Brooklyn? Yes!
No, I’m not going to tell you precisely where I find most of mine (bad form to even ask a mushroom hunter that, you know). But I will tell you that cinnabar chanterelles (Cantharellus cinnabarinus) appear in late summer in almost all of our city parks including BK and the other boroughs.
When they first pop up, the caps of cinnabar chanterelles are tiny, about half the size of my pinkie fingernail or less. At that stage they are convex and look like little buttons on short, slender stems. They usually appear in colonies spread out over a fairly large patch of ground, and often you’ll see a mix of individual mushrooms and small clusters or groups of them.
As they get bigger the caps unfurl upward, creating the classic chanterelle funnel shape. The margins of the caps tend to stay curled down towards the earth even after the rest of the cap has lifted up into a concave cup shape. The bigger cinnabars may be an inch or a little more in diameter.
Even in their smallest stage they are easy to spot because of their vivid color, which is a mix of bright orange and a cinnamon-like reddish brown (older specimens may be less colorful). They will appear on the ground popping up from leaf litter under trees, eye-catching morsels begging to be eaten (or at least that’s how they look to me).
Other species of chanterelles are known for their apricot-y smell. This is less noticeable with cinnabar chanterelles, but they do have a light, pleasant smell.
Remember the first rule of foraging: If in doubt, leave it out. Is there any other mushroom, any poisonous mushroom, that you might confuse with Catharellus cinnabarinus?
Yes, but only if you haven’t met the real cinnabar chanterelle yet. Novice foragers have confused jack o’lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius) with different species of chanterelles. Here’s how to make sure you’ve got the safe and delicious item, not the poisonous one:
Chanterelle mushrooms have gills that fork near the margins of the caps, and usually run part of the way down the stem. Jack o’lantern mushroom gills also usually run part way down the stems, but they are unforked. Also, jack o’lantern mushroom gills (not the whole mushroom, just the gills) glow in the dark. Seriously. But I’m assuming you’re not out mushroom hunting at night, so that fact may not help you distinguish between the species.
Some foraging snobs turn up their noses at cinnabar chanterelles claiming that they aren’t as tasty as other chanterelles. I’ve got two problems with their attitude: 1) cinnabar chanterelles are very, very tasty, and 2) they are the only kind of chanterelle I’ve ever found growing in Brooklyn.
Like most mushrooms, Chanterelles dry well by either the oven method or in a dehydrator. You can also preserve them by pickling them. Another option is to sautee them in a little butter or oil for 10 minutes and then freeze the cooked mushrooms for future use.
But let’s say you’re ready to eat them right now. The thing cinnabar chanterelles have over their more renowned kin is that fiery color. I like to give that bright hue a chance to shine against the background of pale, creamy arborio rice in a simple risotto.
Cinnabar Chanterelle Risotto
Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main course
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 pound cinnabar chanterelles (if you don’t have that many, weigh what you’ve
- got and fill in with regular store-bought mushrooms)
- 2 shallots or 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 4 – 5 cups chicken, vegetable, or mushroom broth
- 1 teaspoon fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan or peccorino cheese, plus more for serving
salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh chive or field garlic leaves, snipped into small pieces (optional)
1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over low heat. When it is fragrant but not yet smoking, add the mushrooms and the shallot or onion. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms soften and the shallots or onion become translucent, about 10 minutes. Transfer the cooked mushrooms and shallots or onion to a dish and set aside.
2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the broth in a separate pot.
3. Add the wine to the pan and cook until the wine is absorbed and/or evaporated, about another minute.
4. Add the thyme leaves. Start adding the hot broth, stirring constantly, 1/4 – 1/3 cup at a time. Wait until the risotto begs for it before adding more liquid, but don’t let the risotto stick or burn. Stir, stir, stir.
5. When you’ve added about 1/2 of the broth to the rice, return the mushrooms and shallots or onions to the skillet. Keep adding broth a little at a time until the rice is creamy but still slightly chewy.
6. Stir in the optional butter and the grated cheese. Taste, and then and salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with the chive or field garlic leaves just before serving, if desired.
If you’re using dried rather than fresh chanterelles, use the soaking liquid from rehydrating them as part of the broth.
Leda Meredith is the author of The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget. She is the Gardening Program Coordinator for Adult Education at the New York Botanical Garden and an instructor specializing in edible and medicinal plants at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Info on her many upcoming classes and events can be found on her blog at www.ledameredith.com