Collecting & Preserving Mushrooms from the Wild
Freezing is a great preservation technique for Chanterelles (Cantharellus), Pink Gills (Agaricus), Morels (Morchella), and Cauliflower Mushrooms (Sparassis). Thoroughly clean your mushrooms. You can wash them if they are really dirty. If you are going to freeze mushrooms you would be wise to invest in a vacuum-sealer, because it is important to protect them from the damaging effects of oxygen. Plus, your mushrooms will last longer in the freezer, and when thawed and used, they will taste like they were just cooked.
If there is still some liquid present after sautéing your mushrooms, put them in the vacuum-seal bags, but leave at least 3 inches from the top so that you can seal them once they are frozen. Check with your machine instructions for more details. You will need to lay the bags as flat as you can without any liquid dripping out in the freezer until the content is frozen. Then you can vacuum-seal them. Otherwise, the liquid will be drawn into your machine.
I do not vacuum-seal raw mushrooms, but always pre-cook them first, usually by sautéing or dry sautéing. See “Dry Sautéing” for directions. When you are ready to defrost, slit open the bag and thaw in the refrigerator. Mushrooms that can be dried can also be frozen successfully.
If you don’t have a vacuum-sealing machine then you need to be sure that it is impossible for air to get to the mushrooms while frozen. Put out a large sheet of plastic wrap and lay the mushroom slices on it. Then smooth a layer of plastic tightly over the slices to seal out the air. Next, put the mushroom slices onto a sheet of foil and seal out the air by folding the foil tightly. Create sizes that fit into plastic bags. Then immediately put them into the freezer.
Freezing is a good method to preserve the following mushrooms:
Cantharellus (Chanterelles): One of the great things about Chanterelles is that they are usually bug-free. While still collecting your mushrooms prepare them for your basket by cutting the ends of the stalks and removing any dirt or forest debris with a brush. Put them in paper or wax bags. Once you are home wash thoroughly under running cold water, if needed. Spread one layer thick on paper towels and let them dry for a few hours.
When you are ready to cook them, cut in bite size chunks. It’s even better to strip them vertically. If you want to prepare your Chanterelles fresh or prepare them to be frozen put them in a large heated skillet with some butter and olive oil. Don’t crowd them. Add chopped onions and garlic. Stir them for a while over high heat. Add salt and pepper. Cover the pan and cook on medium heat, stirring periodically. Cook until pieces are tender. Their flavor pairs well with recipes of egg and cheese combinations.
Once they cool down completely, pack into bags or containers for vacuum-sealing. You may need to freeze them in the bags first so the liquid isn’t drawn into the vacuum-sealing machine. Lay them as flat as you can in the freezer. Once they are frozen you can remove the bags and seal them, then return the packages to the freezer. When it is time for their use, cut open and thaw, and add to your favorite recipes.
The Chanterelles in the PNW commonly found are the golden or yellow Cantharellus formosus, Cantharellus cascadensis, and Cantharellus roseocanus, and the white Cantharellus subalbidus. If dried they tend to be rubbery. It is best to dry sauté them. See “Dry Sautéing” for directions.
Chlorophyllum rachodes (White Shaggy Parasol Mushroom): This mushroom has an excellent flavor and texture. You can use the button stage to the large, fully expanded caps. One way is to use the inverted large caps stuffed and then baked. They taste great simply sautéed in butter, and seasoned with some salt and pepper. Once they are cooked they can be vacuum-sealed, but you will need to freeze them first in their bags so that you don’t draw the liquid into your machine.
Coprinus comatus (Shaggy Mane): This mild, nutty-flavored mushroom has a good texture, and taste best when sautéed. It can be added to mild-tasting dishes or with eggs. It also makes a good Alfredo sauce to be used on pasta, in a quiche, or in chowders. It does well in a stir-fry with veggies. Because Shaggy Manes are so fragile and turn to ink so quickly, they need to be used soon after picking. They can last a few day in the refrigerator once they have been cooked. After being cooked they can be frozen, but drying is not a good method for preserving them.
Craterellus cornucopioides (Black Trumpets, Horn of Plenty): Clean the mushrooms by tearing them open before cooking or preserving. Their hollow stalks almost always have forest debris present, such as fir needles, as well as bugs. Rinsing in water does not usually affect their texture. Black trumpets are best used in recipes that do not distract from their mild, but distinctive flavor.
When using fresh, sauté in some butter. You can freeze them once they are cooked. I let them freeze in the vacuum-seal bag first before actually vacuum-sealing them to keep any liquid from being drawn into the machine.
They are easily preserved by drying and rehydrating. See “Drying” for more information about how to rehydrate. Don’t let the strained, rehydrated water go to waste. It can hold a lot of flavor. Add the liquid to the sauté pan with some brandy, and let it mostly evaporate while cooking, and the flavor will stay. See “Stalks and Liquids” for ways to preserve these liquids.
Craterellus tubaeformis (Yellow Foot or Winter Chanterelle): This Winter Chanterelle is thin fleshed with a mild flavor, but is not liked by everyone. What makes this a desirable mushroom is that it is available in the winter when few others are fruiting. It is usually free of insects, except in the hollow stalks where they might be hiding. This mushroom is good used with sharp cheddar cheese, green olives, sausages, curries, and chilies. I like to use it in egg dishes such as a quiche after slightly sautéing it first and then chopping it finely in a food processor before adding it to my recipe. They freeze well for later use after being cooked first.
Fistulina hepatica (Beefsteak Mushroom): It has the look of a marbled steak, but it with an acidic flavor and can be somewhat slimy when working with it. It does make a good jerky, if marinated and then dried. It is also good when cooked and frozen. Use it in sweet and sour dishes, with lemon, sour cream, and in curries.
Gomphus clavatus (Pig’s Ear): This distinctive mushrooms is often riddled with insects, but if you do find some good ones, drying is the best way to preserve them. The flavor is good when young, but becomes less flavorful and insipid as it ages. Smoking or marinating works well too, especially when used fresh or after being frozen.
Hydnum umbilicatum & H. repandum (Hedgehogs): These toothed mushrooms are good ones for beginners since it is hard to confuse them with any poisonous mushrooms. They also tend to be bug-free. This is a very versatile mushroom and works well in most recipes that call for mushrooms. They have a nutty flavor and firm texture. If you want to preserve them for later use sauté and freeze them. They also pickle well.
Lactarius deliciosus (Delicious Milkcap), Lactarius rubrilacteus (Bleeding Milkcap): The flavor is often described as mild and nutty, but it is usually the texture that turns many people off. If I am planning on using them fresh, I sauté them in some butter and season with some salt and pepper, then chop them in a food processor. That way you get the good taste without the gritty/chalky texture. sauté the younger ones that haven’t turned green yet when you only want a short amount of time for cooking; use the older one in soups or stews that require longer cooking times. These mushrooms can be preserved by freezing or pickling. They are also good when baked.
Lepista nuda (Blewits): This mild flavored, purple mushroom has a hint of citrus. They can be dried, frozen, or pickled. You can also sauté them by themselves or use in mild flavored recipes such as soups, quiches, or with eggs or potatoes. Be sure they are dry after collecting them since Blewits water-log easily.
Morchella (Morels): Clean morels well, cutting them in half length-wise to check for forest debris and bugs. Drying is the easiest technique for preserving morels, but they also freeze well. Dry in a dehydrator or simply string them on a line. After drying, seal in a container marked with the name and date. Then freeze for a week to ensure that any insects that escaped the cleaning and drying process have been killed.
Finally, store the container in a cool, dry place for as long as you can resist the temptation to cook with them. Reconstitute the morels before using in a recipe that requires cooking. Remember, morels are poisonous raw and can still cause toxic symptoms if undercooked. They are excellent dipped in batter and deep-fried. Morels pair well with meat dishes, poultry, and in sauces.
Pleurotus (Oyster Mushrooms): Pleurotus populinus and P. pulmonarius were both previously called Pleurotus ostreatus. Pleurotus eryngii is a cultivated mushroom that may be available in your local grocery store. They get their name from a resemblance to fresh-shucked oysters. These mushrooms taste good sautéed in butter and used in stir-fries. They can develop a slight flavor of anise or of seafood, while cultivated varieties are milder. Use recipes that don’t overpower them. They have a somewhat chewy texture. If you are going to preserve them freezing is best. Oyster Mushrooms are desirable for stewing since they hold their shape well. Slice thinly and use only the tender portions.
Ramaria (Coral Mushrooms): This mushroom is often wormy and/or dirty. Cut through it in the field to check for bugs and try to cut those parts away. Use your mushroom brush to clean it the best you can. The best one to sauté is the pink-tipped coral, Ramaria botrytis, when it is young. It loses its color and flavor as it ages and becomes hard to ID. Some people like to marinate it instead. The yellow coral (Ramaria rasilispora) is another good coral if you can identify it. I like to sauté them with salami or sausage grease to give them some flavor. Coral mushrooms can be pickled, but also cooked and frozen. They are excellent in gravies served over rice.
Russula xerampolina (Shrimp Mushroom): It is probably the most often eaten and best tasting of the Russula mushrooms, except maybe for the Lobster Mushroom. The strong shrimp flavor usually doesn’t develop until the mushroom is too old to eat, but it does have a good flavor when young. You can use them in soups and chowders. They are best preserved when frozen or pickled. Drying toughens their texture and produces a strong flavor. The texture is “crunchy” so if that is not to your liking you can chop them finely before putting in a recipe. Try dipping it in tempura batter and deep-frying. They are also good when baked.
Sparassis radicata (Cauliflower Mushroom): This mushroom resembles a pile of pasta or a large cauliflower. It is best when treated as if it was pasta or used in casseroles or stir-fries. If it taste bitter par-boil it first. Then it can be cooked and frozen for use later. Sparassis is excellent separated into sections, dipped in batter and deep-fried. Also use it in sauces and soups when finely chopped. The texture can be chewy.
Tricholoma magnivelare (Matsutake): This gilled mushroom is not as prone to insect infestation as many of the boletes. The best way to identify it is by its odor. Some people describe it as fragrant and spicy, others as dirty gym socks. I didn’t like the flavor or odor of this mushroom until I started cooking it in Japanese recipes such as dashi soup. Dashi is usually based on kombu kelp, dried bonito (tuna) flakes, and miso. What a difference this makes when preparing this mushroom, especially if you didn’t previously care for its odor and taste. Give it another chance. Large and open mushrooms are often better to use than the buttons. The stalk should be sliced very thin prior to cooking to overcome any toughness. Matsutakes freeze well, but should be parboiled or sautéed first prior to being put into the freezer.