As we’ve well-established here over the past few weeks, our surplus of rain has seriously sucked for certain things in our garden. Our potatoes are rotting. Our tomatoes are splitting. Our carrots are all rubbery and gross. But the great thing about crop diversity? Something will almost always thrive in whatever growing conditions Mother Nature wants to hurl at you. And this year’s winner of the rainy weather condition lottery are wild mushrooms. Chanterelles, in particular.
We’re still way early in the chanterelle season, and we’ve already harvested nearly 10 pounds of mushrooms off our property (and there have got to be at least another 30 pounds of future mushrooms growing out there). I love mushrooms as much as the next girl, but even I can’t plow through that many fresh ones. Even if they are delicious, nutty, sweet, mild chanterelles. Sure, we could only pick what we could eat fresh, but at nearly $20 per pound at local farmer’s markets (seriously), it’s hard to pass by the opportunity to harvest as much as we can (without killing our patch, obviously). So what’s a self-sustainable, deep-freezer owning, wild mushroom-loving girl to do?
It’s pretty widely accepted that chanterelles don’t preserve well. You can dry them, but unlike a lot of other mushrooms, they don’t rehydrate well. We’ve yet to try it, but the word on the street is that no matter how much you soak or saute them, they stay woody and tough. Not good eats.
Freezing is tricky because mushrooms have so much water in them. The water expands when it is frozen and explodes the cell walls of the mushrooms, causing mushy, slimy, really not very tasty mushrooms. But you can get around that by cooking a lot of the water out before you freeze them (bonus: they take up less space in the freezer this way).
First step is to get your mushrooms clean. If you’ve had a dry season and have sandy soil, you might just be able to brush off any big chunks of dirt. If you just have a little bit of soil stuck, a brief rinse might do the trick. Our water-logged soil required a full-on dip in the sink pool to remove the gunk from our chanterelles.
Once they are clean (well, as clean as they are going to get, wild mushrooms don’t really ever get 100% clean), you’ll lop off the woody end, and slice any big ones you have in half or smaller. In this area, the largest chanterelles get to be about the size of a baseball, but I’ve heard in some parts of the Pacific Northwest they can get as big as your head! So, if you have one of those, cut it into decidedly smaller pieces.
I use a little bit of fat to get the cooking process going. You can really use whatever you like—olive oil, coconut oil, bacon grease—but I love the flavor of butter, so I use that. It doesn’t take much, I use about 1/2 tablespoon for each pound of mushrooms. Melt the butter in a big ole skillet over high heat.
Then toss in your cleaned and cut mushrooms. Fill ‘er up!
Gently stir and toss the mushrooms to get them coated in the butter, and then just let them cook down. You can stir every few minutes, but you don’t have to be super diligent about it. After about five minutes, you’ll see a little lake of water forming. Yay!
After 5-10 more minutes, you’ll start to get to the point where the mushrooms are much smaller and the water in the pan is much larger. You want to get to the point where there is about the same amount of water as there is mushrooms.
Turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to scoop out the mushrooms for storage. You can store them in a million different ways—zip-top bags, canning jars, ice cube trays—but we’ve landed on using a muffin tin.
The muffin tin is a great portion-size for recipes. When we’re making soups, we just drop in a couple of muffin tin pucks of mushrooms. Or if you want to make a pizza, we just pull out one muffin tin puck to defrost. I pack them tightly into the muffin tin cups and then pop the muffin tin the freezer. Once the mushrooms are frozen solid, I use a butter knife to pop the pucks out.
Then I drop the pucks in a labeled freezer bag and pop it in the freezer for easy use.
Using this method, we can fit about 10 pounds of chanterelles in one gallon freezer bag. Considering in their uncooked form they filled up a whole bushel basket? That’s some excellent space reduction.
Oh! And you know that remaining cooking liquid from the mushrooms? Don’t you dare throw that out. You’ve effectively made yourself a nice, rich batch of mushroom broth. Use it to cook grains or in a soup. Or, do like I did, and use it (along with a little bit of dry wine) to cook some chanterelle risotto. Yum.
It’s been a few days since our last trek into the woods, so we’ll be headed out there soon (maybe even this afternoon!) and hopefully raking in a lot more mushroom loot. Yay!