Walking through the Ferry Building recently, I couldn't pass up locally foraged chanterelle mushrooms from Far West Fungi. Chanterelles first become available to us in the fall, being foraged from the Pacific Northwest. They arrive with the first rains, and they begin to grow closer to San Francisco as we get into wintertime and cooler, rainier weather. Because chanterelles grow as the result of a symbiotic relationship between fungus and host plant (usually a tree), they are always found in the wild and don't grow outside of a forest environment.
In his book The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan details foraging for chanterelle mushrooms with a mushroom hunter -- one of several area people who forage for these delicious mushrooms in nearby forests and then bring them to San Francisco to sell to restaurants and stores.
I jump at the chance to buy chanterelle mushrooms because I love their meaty texture and delicious flavor. It's been said that they have an apricot scent, and I think that the flavor is deliciously strong without being overwhelming. They don't tend to cook down as much as say, button mushrooms, so the yield per person is better.
Keep an eye out for chanterelles on local area menus. I usually find them at the local gourmet pizzerias as a pizza topping, and SPQR regularly has them on their menu sauteed with spinach.
When cooking at home, I usually make very basic dishes that show off the chanterelle flavor. Tonight, I'm thinking of using mine in a very basic risotto. In the past, I've sauteed them simply with butter and topped with a poached egg. I also like them tossed with a whole grain such as farro or brown rice.
Chanterelles have a hefty price tag -- I purchased a meager amount at Far West Fungi for $20 per pound. But they are meaty enough and substantial enough to be a main ingredient in place of meat, which is how I justify the cost.
Currently, the chanterelles available at Far West Fungi and local farmers markets are being foraged from all around the Bay Area: Sonoma, Marin, and Alameda counties. We can expect to see chanterelle mushrooms for at least a few more weeks, and if it rains then possibly another month or two.
Chanterelles on Bay Area Bites:
Hunter gatherer: Chanterelles in Big Sur
Chanterelle mushroom recipes on the blogs:
Truffled Chanterelle, Celery Root and Potato Gratin
Warm Chanterelle and Pancetta Salad
Farro with Chanterelles, Apples, Apples and Apples