Prior to moving to Vancouver in 2003, foraging for anything or even wild products for that matter, had never dawned on me. In fact I don’t think anything more al fresco than maple syrup had entered my consciousness. Not long after I arrived, I was introduced to wild mushrooms and fiddleheads at a couple of restaurants; “Wow these are cool”. Morels; freakish, brain like things packed with flavour or bright yellow/orange chanterelles that had an aroma similar to apricots. I started buying paper bags of them at the Granville Island Market to create dishes at home. I was hooked. Chanterelles, Morels, Hedgehogs, Lobsters, Truffles… All different, all delicious in their own way. The big “Ah haaa” moment was when a friend who’d grown up in Vancouver took me on my first “picking” excursion on the North Shore (don’t worry Steve; I won’t tell anyone where). He and his dad had been hunting Chanterelles and Matsutake for years and he very generously gave me my introduction to what is now a great pleasure in my life. It only took the one time for me to become addicted to foraging. Like treasure hunting for food obsessed adults.
Now, here on the Sunshine Coast it’s the promised land. I’ve never come across a place that has so many things you can forage yourself. FREE FOOD! Salmon berries, huckleberries, blackberries (yes they’re weeds but they make up for it in abundant fruit. Mostly.), sea asparagus and even blueberries. I didn’t actually know Huckleberries were local until I saw a post on Instagram from #tastesunshinecoast. Thanks for that. Will be keeping an eye out for them.
One thing I always enjoy come this time of the year is “Sea Asparagus” as it’s called in B.C. Also known as “Sea Beans” or “Samphire”, it’s a crisp, salty green which grows on the beaches. I’ve never looked for it myself but it’s on the list of “to-do’s” very shortly. You can find these at the Fisherman’s Market in Gibsons or at the Sechelt Fish Market if you don’t want to go beachcombing. I’ve used them in salads such as potato, mixed greens and tomato with great results. They add a noticeable pop. Just give them a quick, 20 – 30 second blanche in boiling water and then soak in an ice bath before using. They should still be fairly firm and a vibrant green.
But it’s the mushrooms that I get the most excited about. I can walk into the mountains and it’s idyllic surroundings wherever I look. Chanterelles are starting their first bloom of the season right now and I’ll be out there every opportunity. It’s what I assume gambling is like for some people. I’m addicted to the hunt. If I go with friends I’m competitive and and I covet my spots. Being protective of your patches isn’t uncommon; Truffles and Porcini/ Ceps are big money business in Italy and France. I was in Tuscany last Fall and had hoped to go out for Porcini but I needed authorization to do so. I’d have also liked to have gone Truffle hunting but couldn’t afford a guide to take me. So instead I made up for it by eating as many of both as I could while there and bringing dried ones back with me.
There are only two things I don’t like about mushroom foraging; the chance I could pick the wrong mushroom and do myself or someone else dire harm. The other is coming up on a bear or a cougar or vice versa. Any of those situations would put quite a damper on the experience. I’ve always preferred the idea of death by natural causes as opposed to death by nature.
On that note; I’d like to let readers know that there’s a local person, Jody: AKA “Shaggy Jack” whose an authority on mushrooms on the Sunshine Coast. He supplies the restaurants with foraged mushrooms and offers classes on finding them locally. He’s a wealth of knowledge and unlike myself, doesn’t try to keep his spots a secret. If you’d like to learn more; firstname.lastname@example.org
If you do go exploring for Chanterelles or even just buy some at a farmers market, here are my two favourite things to make with them.
Creamy Chanterelle Mushroom Soup
I found this recipe a year or so ago when I’d had a particularly good haul of Chanterelles and was looking for creative ways to use them. Courtesy of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at the Food Lab and Serious Eats, it’s a great recipe. The only modification I made was a sauteed a few smaller Chanterelles with fine diced bacon to dress the top of the soup with. A little added decadence.
- 1 pound Chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed, trimmings reserved (see note)
- 1 1/2 quarts low-sodium homemade or store bought chicken broth
- 7 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 1/2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 cup), plus 1/2 shallot minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 3 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced (about 1 tablespoon
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 cup dry sherry or white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 thyme sprigs, plus 1/2 teaspoon picked thyme leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Set 1/2 cup mushrooms aside for garnish. Place mushroom trimming in a medium saucepan. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a sub-simmer and keep warm.
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms (except or garnish) to pot and cook, stirring frequently, until excess liquid evaporates and mushrooms start to sizzle, about 10 minutes.
- Add flour and stir to incorporate. Cook for 30 seconds. Add sherry or white wine and cook, stirring constantly and scraping bottom of pan, until thick and syrupy, about 1 minute. Place a fine mesh strainer over the soup and pour the mushroom-infused broth through it. Discard mushroom scraps. Add bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Bring soup to a simmer and adjust heat to maintain a bare bubble. Let simmer for 30 minutes.
- Discard bay leaves and thyme and transfer soup to a blender. Close blender and blend, starting on low speed and slowly getting faster. Once blender is at full speed, add four tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until fully incorporated. Continue blending until completely smooth. Rinse out pot and pour soup back into it through a chinois or fine mesh strainer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To serve, heat oil in a medium saucepan over high heat until lightly smoking. Add reserved mushrooms and cook, tossing continuously, until browned, about 2 minutes. Add minced shallots and thyme sprigs and toss until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add 2 tablespoons water and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
- Ladle soup into warm bowls and top with sautéed mushroom mixture. Serve immediately.
Mushrooms on Toast; the royal version
One of the great comfort food dishes made from the simplest of ingredients. The difference here is these are’t your usual button mushrooms… Courtesy of The NY Times.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound fresh Chanterelles
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- ½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon cold butter
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 4 slices GOOD QUALITY toasted sourdough, for serving
- 4 tablespoons shaved Parmesan
- Heat your largest fry pan over medium-high heat, and when it is hot, add the olive oil. Once the olive oil is hot, add the Chanterelles. Cook for 4 minutes without moving them around too much.
- Add the sherry vinegar and the lemon juice and cook down until fully reduced. Add the stock and reduce by half (you are not exactly reducing so much as hydrating the mushrooms). Add the rosemary, thyme, parsley and butter. Stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate the butter. Season with salt and pepper.
- Evenly spoon the Chanterelles over the 4 pieces of toasted bread and garnish with shaved Parmesan.