A Feast of Edible Wild Mushrooms: Recipes for Porcino, Morels and Chanterelles

How to select and cook wild mushrooms.

| September/October 1999

Featured Wild Mushroom Recipes:

Oven-Roasted or Grilled Porcini
Warm Morels and Potato Salad
Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

It's hard to imagine anything more mysteriously and elementally of the earth than mushrooms. They spring up suddenly and unexpectedly from a dank, decaying underworld. Among their myriad varieties are some of the most desired flavors in the culinary world—and some of the deadliest.

The mushroom myths of Western cultures cluster around death and destruction. For centuries, mushrooms were regarded as agents of evil spirits, magically appearing when thunder sounded or when lightening struck. Because they grew in dung and other decaying matter, they were generally thought to be unclean or unhealthy. On the other hand, many Asian cultures have used them for culinary and medicinal purposes—and this use is spreading.

Our interest here, however, is in three of the finest edible mushrooms: the porcino (Boletus edulus), also know as cèpe in France or bolete in serious mushroom circles; the chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius); and the morel (Morchella esculenta). All three are easy to identify with reasonable certainty in the wild. All are principally found in temperate-zone woods and forests, although morels sometimes appear in woodsy garden nooks.

Each mushroom variety also is harvested commercially, and is increasingly available at farmer’s markets, gourmet stores, and specialty supermarkets. In most states, codes and laws regulate the sale of such mushrooms to ensure that they are safe to eat. There have been no reported poisonings from commercial wild mushrooms for several years. Amateur harvesters do, however, account for occasional poisonings that range from digestive upset through liver impairment to death.

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