Dances with Chanterelles

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“No kidding John, you haven’t been chanterelle hunting yet?” my astonished foodie-friend asked while buying a hunk of  pizza from me.
“Aaaaaaa no,” I said, my response sounding more ignorant than usual.
“Well, you gotta get your head out of that pizza oven and get out there dude, there poppin’ everywhere!”  He walked away.
Within the next 30 minutes, three more people said it was a bumper year for the chanterelles, and I goaded them on to tell me where to look.
“Under big beech trees,” came one response.
“On the north side of ridges with big oaks,” came another.
Now, nothing tweeks the goon’s brain like the challenge of a forest forage. The lure of free booty taken easily from mother nature, and all you have to do is hunt. The hunt was on.
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The name chanterelle comes from the Greek  cantharos, meaning cup. In France, it’s known as the girolle; in Italy as canterello, galletto, gallinacci, finferlo, margherita and garitula. The mushroom’s firm, eggshell yellow flesh has the fruity taste of apricot with a peppery finish, which is why the Germans call it pfifferling.

Often the simplest preparation is the best:  sauteed in butter with chervil or flat leaf parsley and shallots. Some northern Italian cooks add cream. Since 1893, it has been the favored mushroom to throw into  thick-ass bechamel for Maxime Gaillard’s famous Croutes Aux Champignons (baked mushrooms on toast) at Chez Maxim’s in Paris. Damn the heart attack, full speed ahead.

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My own chanterelle memory brings me back to Le Ciel Bleu restaurant in Chicago in 1988, where I was a dining room captain and served  hundreds of appetizers called “Champignon en Papillote,” or mushrooms baked in parchment paper.

For this dish, our belligerent yet talented Chef  Dominique folded a round piece of parchment paper around a pile of chanterelles he had tossed in a bowl of white Bordeaux, paper thin slices of garlic, chopped thyme and parsley, and sea salt. He baked the package at  375 degrees until the steam from the wine-soaked mushrooms bloated the air-tight bag into beautiful Hindenburg-like ball. As he yelled epithets like “Hurrrry, you Amer-eee-Keeen Dog,” I scurried out of the kitchen and brought the bag and a sharp knife to the table.  In front of guests, I cut the bag open with great finesse, releasing the herbal steam into their receptive faces. A drizzle of mushroom jus and brioche toast points made it a superb dish.

Back on planet earth and 22 hours after deciding to hunt, I struggled up a ridge in my usual mushroom hunting grounds. I had checked all the low-lying swampy forest but found no chanterelles so I gave up, caving in to my boys, who ranted about going to a large rocky ridge they call “Indian Rock.”
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Just as we approached the top, Sam shouted, “Shamdrell…er… kantrell!” My eyes followed his point and sure enough, on an almost vertical, moss covered wall above the trail, he had found chanterelles. They were small, beat-up and dirty, but chanterelles nonetheess, perfect on pizza with an organic duck breast.

A word about chanterelle hunting: Beware of false chanterelles and Jack O’Lanterns. These mushrooms mimic the real one. False chanterelles have sharp gills, thinner stems and more orange brown than the funnel-shaped real ones. Jack O’Lanterns grow on wood in large clumps, and in the dark. The best rule is: If you wonder whether it’s a chanterelle, don’t pick it.

Chanterelle Pizza with Grilled Duck Breast and Apricots

3-4 ounces fresh chantrelles

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons chicken stock

1 tablespoon dry white wine

1 tablespoon chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

1 duck breast

Salt and freshly-ground pepper

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup shredded Gouda cheese

2 tablespoons shaved dried apricots

1/4 cup arugla

Use the Easy Dough recipe for round pizza (found in the right sidebar). Make it 4 hours before the bake.

Preheat oven. Place a pizza stone or the upturned bottom of a heavy sheet pan in the middle rack.

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Chanterelles are notoriously dirty and hard to clean. Luckily, mushroom fanatics revel in the fact that they don’t have to wade through forests of prickly bushes and mosquitoes to do this. Do not soak chanterelles. They act like sponges and soak up an amazing amount of water. To clean, use a dry brush or blow on them. For really dirty ones,  turn on the shower and use one or two streams to blast some dirt away fast, then dry like mad.

I always eat as much of the chanterelle as possible. You may have read the stems are tough. Bullocks! The meatier the better, with this beauty. I cut the stems down the center or quarter the big mushrooms.
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1. Saute garlic in a skillet on medium-low heat with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil for 5 minutes or until translucent. Add another tablespoon of olive oil and the mushrooms as you turn heat to medium. 2. Cook for 3 minutes, tossing frequently. Remove mushrooms from the pan, keeping all liquid. Turn heat up to high and add the chicken stock and wine. 3. Reduce for 2 minutes, stirring gently, then add mushrooms again. Add parsley and stir for another minute. Remove from heat.
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1. Cut a cross hatch pattern on the duck skin to alleviate curling of the breast while cooking. 2. Salt and pepper the duck breast and place on the grill at high (500 degrees) temperature, skin side down. Do not walk away as the duck fat may cause a firestorm. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the skin is crispy and starting to turn dark brown. Turn the breast over and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove and rest on a plate for 10 minutes. 3. Place skin side up and slice thinly on the bias across the breast (not lengthwise)

Make a pizza round according to the Easy Pizza Dough recipe and place it on a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel or the bottom of a sheet pan. Add the shredded Parmesan and gouda, then the mushrooms. Transfer it to the pizza stone or upturned pan and cook for 7- 10 minutes or until golden brown. (See video)
                                                  

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Top the cooked pizza with slices of duck breast, shaved dried apricots and a chiffonade (strips) of peppery arugula. Serve Immediately.

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