Chanterelle mushrooms, among the finest wild edibles anywhere, are pretty abundant here in California. They’re also a delight to forage, beckoning eager mushroom pickers into serene forests of mixed redwood and Douglas fir, or to oak-laden hills, to hunt for nuggets of gold sprouting from the duff. Their flavor is something most people can get behind — mild and a little fruity (like apricots), with a texture similar to fine shellfish.
When are chanterelle mushrooms in season?
It all depends on the species (there are several different types of chanterelles) and where you live. On the North Coast of California, where chanterelles are especially plentiful, they’re generally in season from fall through early winter.
Where is the best place to find chanterelles?
Chanterelles are mycorrhizal, so they grow as part of a mutually beneficial relationship with certain species of trees. Consult your local mushroom guide for information specific to your area. On California’s North Coast, chanterelles usually fruit beneath Douglas fir and western hemlock. They also associate with oak trees further inland. Begin by visiting these trees during the right time of year, and you’ll be into mushrooms soon enough.
How do you cook chanterelle mushrooms?
Chanterelles benefit from simple presentations that allow their delicate, fruity flavor to shine. For example, they’re wonderful torn into large pieces, brushed with olive oil, and grilled. They also take well to a simple sauté in butter, especially when pulled into long shreds.
However, it’s important that you dry sauté chanterelles until their liquid releases and evaporates before adding any butter or oil. They’re a watery mushroom, so this ensures the excess moisture is cooked out — otherwise it will mask the delicate flavor and dull the texture.
Once the dry sauté is complete, add some butter, minced garlic, and a few sprigs of thyme. Cook, stirring often or shaking the pan, until the mushrooms are glistening in butter and slightly browned. Spoon this buttery, garlicky, mushroomy mixture atop a grass-fed hanger steak or some California king salmon and enjoy.
What do chanterelles taste like?
If you’re nervous about trying chanterelles, don’t be. They’re quite mild and entirely unoffensive, with a mellow, nutty taste and a fruity finish reminiscent of apricots. Some people also describe them as “peppery.” Just make sure they’re cooked properly per the note above so you have the opportunity to really taste their unique flavor.
A Day’s Forage
A lonely golden chanterelle amongst a bounty of oyster mushrooms. Foraging for chanterelles can be hit or miss. Some years, they’re everywhere you look, like abundant bits of treasure littering the forest floor. Other years, you have to hike miles and miles to find one or two. But that’s the fun!
Never, ever, ever, ever eat a mushroom you cannot identify with 100% certainty. When in doubt, throw it out — a few bites of fungi are never worth your life.
How to Identify a Chanterelle
Generally speaking, chanterelles are one of the easiest edible mushrooms to identify, and a good mushroom for novice foragers to target because they have no toxic lookalikes, at least not in Northern California. Always use a field guide like Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast to definitively identify your bounty. And if you’re still unsure, find a local expert who can help. More often than not, they’ll be stoked to assist!
It’s growing on the ground
Chanterelles never grow on dead, decaying, or live wood — they always fruit from mycellium in the soil.
It has a pale-orange to egg-yolk yellow cap
Chanterelles can also be white and usually have concave, gnarled caps with wavy and ruffly edges. The stem is usually a similar color or lighter, and can be white.
It doesn’t have true gills
Instead, it has shallow, veiny ridges that run down the stem of the mushroom and fork near the edges of the cap. The color varies, but the “gills” are usually lighter than the cap and often they are white.
It has a solid stipe + flesh
Chanterelles have firm, solid flesh — they are never hollow. The flesh is usually white and bruises yellow-orange. It should pull from the mushroom almost like string cheese.
It smells faintly of fruit
This is not always the case, but chanterelles often have an intoxicating odor reminiscent of apricots — a smell that’s delicate, unique, and beautiful.
It grows with certain trees
Chanterelles are mycorrhizal, which means their survival depends on forming symbiotic relationships with the roots of certain trees. On California’s North Coast, chanterelles co-exist with Douglas fir and western hemlock. Inland, you’ll find them fruiting beneath oaks.
A pair of young golden chanterelles freshly plucked from the duff. They were hiding in a huckleberry bush beneath a big Doug fir, right where they were supposed to be. You can see how faintly colored some chanterelles can be.
A pair of young golden chanterelles freshly plucked from the duff. They were hiding in a huckleberry bush beneath a big Doug fir, right where they were supposed to be.