This fall I spent more time hunting chanterelle mushrooms in the woods than I spent in our own garden. The combination of foraging for wild food, hiking for hours and simply being outside among torrential rains and giant trees made me feel more than alive at an otherwise sleepy time of year. I ended up with baskets full of mushrooms – more than our family could eat fresh – but thankfully preserving mushrooms is super simple.
I have always been strict about not letting water touch my mushrooms, using a dry cloth instead to brush off any spots of soil. That seems like a fine method for store-bought mushrooms, but when it comes to cleaning freshly picked mushrooms I have changed my tune. There is way too much dirt and forest debris for a dry cloth to handle, unless you want to be there for hours on hand. Also, these mushrooms have been soaking up steady rains for a couple months already, so they are already pretty plump with water.
I don’t submerge them in water, but I do use a wet cloth to clean the harvest. I even ran mine until a light trickle from the faucet while brushing them, which was especially helpful for the really dirty ones. Once clean, set the mushrooms out on a cooling rack so air can circulate all around them. About 24 hours later, they are just dry enough to cook or preserve.
The idea of freezing mushrooms sounded really nutty to me at first, but this has become my go-to method of preserving chanterelles. The mushrooms are cooked prior to freezing, so they are all set to eat when you thaw them. I really like being able to throw them directly on a pizza or toss into fresh pasta.
Cook the chanterelles in a large frying pan with about a tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat. After about five minutes, the mushrooms will render their water and the pan will become really soupy. Keep cooking them for an additional five minutes, until almost all of the water has simmered off. It concentrates the mushroom flavor to let that excess water evaporate off.
Alternatively, you could stop cooking them after they render their liquid. Scoop out the mushrooms, but reserve the liquid. You can freeze that liquid to use later as mushroom stock.
Once cool enough to handle, pack the sauteed mushrooms into muffin tins or mini muffin tins. Regular-sized muffin tins equal about 1/2 cup each and the mini muffin tins are about 1/4 cup a piece. Then pop them in the freezer.
It only takes a few hours for them to harden, but feel free to leave them in overnight. Remove the tins and pop them out of the muffin holes – you might need to loosen the sides with a butter knife to do this. Then toss them all into a gallon freezer bag and put back in the freezer.
Now you have perfectly measured, pre-cooked chanterelle mushrooms ready to go as needed. No wrestling with a large, frozen mushroom brick every time you need a bit for a recipe.
DRY OR NOT DRY?
Many wild mushrooms dry very well, allowing you to add them as needed to soups, stews, casseroles, etc. But I have heard that the delicate flavor of chanterelles can get lost and they become rubbery when reconstituted.
This year I am experimenting with a variation of drying. Instead of drying them in big chunks, I have pulverized the dried mushrooms into a coarse powder. I’m thinking if texture is the issue, this might be a work around. And I’m hoping there is enough flavor there to provide some earthiness to a future nice chicken stew. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Do you cook with wild mushrooms? Do you have another favored preservation method? I would love to hear about it in the comments below! Likewise, feel free to share what excuses you are finding to get outside and enjoy the wilds on these darker days.