The golden child of the mushroom world, chanterelles are known for their beautiful yellow-orange color, their rarity (they’re available fresh only in the late summer and fall), and most of all, their flavor—a subtle balance of black pepper, butter, apricot, and earth notes. Their size can vary from tiny blossom-like specimens to impressive 5-inch trumpets (fresh versions can weigh up to two pounds). Their rich flavor pairs well with eggs and cream sauces. Available in both fresh and dried forms, they can be quite pricey.
Chanterelles have a symbiotic relationship with trees and shrubs: The fungus protects the roots, and they draw nutrients from each other. This symbiosis is difficult and costly to replicate, so chanterelles are not cultivated, only foraged in the wild. That, combined with their short growing season—from the first fall rain until the first frost—is what makes chanterelles so rare. But they do grow in temperate climates on every continent, and on many types of trees and bushes.
When choosing fresh chanterelles, look for a fragrant, apricot-like odor and a golden color. Look for chanterelles that feel firm, with no soft or slimy spots; the gill-like ridges under the cap should be intact. Fresh chanterelles have a pronounced apricot- or peach-like scent. They lose a lot of flavor when dried, so avoid dried or powdered chanterelles.
If they still have their narrow root ends, trim those immediately (the stems, though more fibrous than the caps, are edible). Wait until just before cooking to clean chanterelles with a soft-bristled brush or damp paper towel. If really dirty, hold them under running water and then pat dry with paper towels.
When rehydrated, their texture is pleasantly chewy; the stems, however, can be woody, so after soaking, trim off tough stems and discard them.
Chanterelles can be used in any recipe calling for mushrooms, but they do best in dishes where they’re the star. Many of the flavor compounds in chanterelles are fat soluble, so they are wonderful cooked in butter or cream and served over pasta or on toast. They make a decadent mushroom soup or cream sauce, as in the Roast Chicken with Chanterelles and Peas below, and they’re great in risotto, or egg dishes like omelets, quiches, and frittatas.
Chanterelles pair well with white wine and aromatic fresh herbs like thyme, tarragon, and chervil. Their peppery flavor is good with sweet onions or shallots; hazelnuts or pine nuts accent their nutty notes. Red meat can overpower chanterelles, but they are delicious with fish, poultry, or pork.
Chanterelles stored in a paper bag or a bowl loosely covered with a kitchen towel last up to a week in the refrigerator. They can also be sautéed, cooled, and then frozen for up to a year.