Foraged-mushroom lovers are a little over the top. All it takes is a little rain and some cool fall weather and the hunt for wild mushrooms is on. I’m not referring to the folks who actually harvest mushrooms in the wild, mind you; I’m talking about the folks (like me) that eagerly await the annual holiday treasure hunt for the perfect wild mushroom at our local supermarkets.
The first thing to know about foraged mushrooms is they are not as reliably available as their cultivated cousins. The first hurdle is to find them and get them out of the remote forest areas where they grow. Even if this part goes smoothly, most wild mushrooms are shipped by air so they are just as susceptible to snarled schedules as other holiday travelers.
Like cultivated produce, foraged mushrooms are available seasonally, with winter and spring being the two seasons with the widest availability. Varieties will vary depending on where you live, but the pale orange, trumpet-shaped chanterelle is the most common foraged variety available. Varieties like porcini, black trumpet, and the elusive truffle complement the stable of cultivated varieties available every day.
When selecting foraged mushrooms you should look for specimens that are moist but not too wet and mushy. Mushrooms with forest debris are fine, but muddy mushrooms are very difficult to clean. Mushrooms require an exacting balance of conditions to store properly. The main thing to be mindful of is moisture; mushrooms are like little sponges so it’s better to brush any debris off rather than wash them. Excess moisture can speed decay, so if you are keeping mushrooms for more than a day its best to store them in a paper bag (to allow condensation to escape). It’s better still to buy mushrooms right before you use them, but they will keep for a few days if you are careful.
While prices for foraged mushrooms are usually at their lowest this time of year, they can still be pretty expensive, particularly given that they lose allot of their mass when cooked. I usually combine foraged and cultivated mushrooms if I am preparing them for a large group. Chanterelles are excellent roasted or sautéed as a stand-alone side dish or folded into risotto or stuffing. They make an excellent complement to both red meat and poultry dishes. Enjoy!
— James Parker, global associate perishables coordinator for Whole Foods Market