I know at this time of the year I should be posting something Christmasie, like holiday cookies or a menu for Christmas Eve; but cookies are not my strong suit plus these were too good to pass up.
If you have a Costco near you and are lucky, really lucky, you will find chanterelles in the produce area this week. By that I mean the cold storage area where you have to walk in with a fur coat. I found a box of these babies a couple of days ago for less than $6. Since then, I have been pondering what to do with my treasure, knowing full well that when you have something this good you don't gild the lily. So, into the pan they went with butter, shallots, garlic and some Madeira. Good enough, but over what ? After eliminating toast because it was the evening meal and spaghetti as too plebeian, I came to seriously consider polenta. But how? I didn't want it to be so good and creamy as to interfere with the mushrooms so I decided on baked, very thin and slightly crisp.
Chanterelles are not only my favorite, they are also one of the most important and best edible mushrooms. As a group, they are generally described as being rich in flavor, with a distinctive taste and aroma difficult to characterize. Some species have a fruity odor, others a more woody, earthy fragrance, and still others can even be considered spicy. The golden chanterelle is perhaps the most sought-after and flavorful chanterelle, and many chefs consider it on the same short list of gourmet fungi as truffles and morels. They, therefore, command a high price in both restaurants and specialty stores.
There are many ways to cook chanterelles. Most of the flavorful compounds in chanterelles are fat-soluble making them good mushrooms to sauté in butter, oil or cream. They also contain smaller amounts of water- and alcohol-soluble flavorings, which lend the mushrooms well to recipes involving wine or other cooking alcohols. Many popular methods of cooking chanterelles include them in sautés, soufflés, cream sauces, and soups. They are not typically eaten raw, as their rich and complex flavor is best released when cooked.*
Chanterelles have an enormous amount of water and have to be cooked twice. First to take out the water and second to brown and finish off, quickly. I had no idea were it not for one of my Bibles, La Cuisine de Ma Mere which features a couple of recipes for girolles as they are also called. Goes to show you what one finds out when one has a food blog and can't afford to mess up. As you can see, I wasn't kidding.
To say I enjoyed them immensely is an understatement. They were probably the most flavorful mushrooms I have ever eaten and perfectly cooked. Although I had had them in restaurants, I had never cooked them at home. Frankly, I had never found them in season anywhere until this week at dear old Costco. Who would have thought!
This dish is great for a light meal, lunch, or first course. You can enjoy the mushrooms alone as a side dish with steaks or over toast. It goes well with a salad, especially arugula. Serve a good red wine such as the one I had below. Don't skimp. These are too good and too special to serve with bad stuff.
Chanterelles With Madeira Over Crispy Baked Polenta
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
1/2 cup polenta or stone ground grits Cook as per instructions.
1 lbs Chanterelle mushrooms
1 Tb olive oil
4 TB butter
1 shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, mashed and diced
1/2 Cup Madeira wine, you can substitute a dry Sherry
Parsley or tarragon, optional
Make the polenta first. For 4 people I made 1/2 cup polenta. Follow the package instructions but make it simple, with milk and plenty of butter. Spread thin in an 8X 8 square pan and let it cool until it sets.
Cut out the stems and chop 1 lbs of Chanterelles into large pieces. Chop the stems into small dice.
In a skillet, melt 1 TB olive oil on medium and add the mushrooms. Cook for about 5 minutes. You will see how much water comes out.
Transfer to a colander and squeeze out as much water as you can with the help of a wooden spoon. I had over 1/2 cup which I saved for another use.
Melt 2 TB of butter in the skillet. Add 1 shallot diced and two garlic cloves, mashed and diced. Cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Turn heat back up to high, add 1/2 cup Madeira wine and reduce by half. Add the mushrooms, toss and reduce by another quarter, leaving some in the pan. If you want, add parsley or tarragon. Off the heat add 2 TB butter. Let it rest until the polenta is ready.
Bake the cool polenta for 10 minutes at 500 degrees. Turn the heat down to 450 degrees and bake another 10 minutes until it is a golden yellow. Turn the broiler to high and broil about 5 minutes or until it begins to crisp and brown. Take out and let it rest for about half an hour.
Cut the polenta in squares, add some Parmesan Cheese and top with the mushroom ragu.
Enjoy with a good French Bordeaux like a bottle of La Chapelle de la Mission Haut Brion 2003, the second wine of the famous chateau.
All photos Lindaraxa