Updated: Sep 28, 2019
I have always loved the great outdoors...the feeling of fresh air in your lungs, the sounds of mother nature doing her thing all around you, and the incredible smells that accompany any soggy dog walk out in the countryside.
One such smell has, in the past year or so, really piqued my interest as a professional chef, and has tempted me out in to the wilds of the Alpine landscape that we call home come rain or shine. I'm talking about the unmistakable scent of Wild Mushrooms.
Now first of all...a disclaimer. I have been a professional chef for a long time, but until moving to the Morzine valley have never even contemplated using foraged ingredients in my cooking, seeing it as a rather dangerous pastime what with the possibility of accidentally eating something that could in fact kill you! Living in France however has changed my attitude completely.
It is something of a national pastime over here, and the best spots for finding those prized fungi are passed from generation to generation.
I haven't had the luxury of being taught the art of mushroom hunting by a great grandparent, and have had to learn the basic skills through a large amount of research and the odd pearl of wisdom from fellow amateur mushroom foragers. Because of this, I am (at least for the foreseeable future) sticking to a few species of mushrooms that can in no way be confused with anything deadly. I AM IN NO WAY A PROFESSIONAL FORAGER AND AS SUCH WOULDN'T WANT TO OFFER ANY ADVICE TO OTHERS LOOKING AT GETTING IN TO THIS FASCINATING HOBBY. It is always best to seek the advice of a professional before consuming ANY foraged mushroom.
The thrill of the hunt when out on a mushroom foraging trip (at least for me...Harriet may see it a different way) is all consuming, and I frequently find myself staring, focused, at the forest floor, and not where I am putting my feet! I get excited by finding almost any mushroom, edible or otherwise, and am frequently in awe of the immense variety of shapes, sizes, colours and toxicities they come in, as well as the very specific habitat of each species. I'm sure this fascination I have is probably a little wearing for anyone who has unknowingly come for a dog walk with me recently, as the walks now seem to take a couple of hours longer due to me not being able to walk past a single fungi without photographing (you may have noticed these on our instagram account) and generally admiring it for quite some time. This coupled with my constant requests for someone else to hold the mushroom basket whilst I decide to climb a treacherously steep bank to investigate what at first appears to be a mushroom, but invariably turns out to be a large leaf or stone, could potentially be a little irritating for others...
I find it an immense shame that the main mushroom season only lasts between september and the first cold snap, but at least it keeps me out of trouble and in the forest for the majority of the interseason! Willow (our dog) definitely appreciates my new found hobby, as it results sometimes in day-long walks...
Here in France, the safest way of identifying the mushrooms you have found is to take them to the local pharmacy, as French pharmacists are trained in identifying wild mushrooms as part of their pharmacist training. Trips to the pharmacy, mushroom basket in hand, have led to feelings of both immense excitement, and of bitter dismay (and embarrassment) for Harriet and I. After a fair few trips to the local Pharmacies, and a great deal of researching, we now feel confident in positively identifying about 4 species of edible wild mushrooms: Ceps and Boletes, Girolles, Shaggy Inkcaps and Hedgehog mushrooms.
I am now confident enough with Ceps, that when I find more than enough for dinner, I slice and dry the remaining mushrooms in the oven, and store in kilner jars for use in stocks and sauces at a later date. We have also become huge fans of simply frying the foraged Ceps in butter and eating them on toast with crumbled blue cheese...
and here's the recipe...Bon Appetite!!
Ceps on fried toast, with Thyme, Garlic and Blue Cheese
Makes enough for 2 people:
4 or 5 fresh, cleaned and sliced Ceps (Porcini mushrooms)
1 or 2 cloves or fresh garlic, crushed
4 slices of french bread
100g unsalted butter
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped
Crumbly blue cheese to top (Bleu d'Auvergne or Stilton work well)
salt and pepper
If you are using Ceps that you have foraged yourself, make sure you have 100% positively identified them as being edible.
Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the sliced ceps. Brown gently on both sides for a couple of minutes.
Next add the thyme leaves and crushed garlic, and continue to cook on a low heat for a further 2-3 minutes, tossing occasionally and seasoning to taste.
Remove the mushrooms from the pan using a slotted spoon, reserving the now flavoured butter in the pan. Put the mushrooms to one side, covering in foil to keep their heat in.
Bring the heat up a little so that the butter starts to bubble. Add the slices of french bread and cook until browned on both sides.
To plate, place the toast on top of each other. Top with a generous helping of the cooked mushrooms and some crumbled blue cheese. Pour any remaining butter over the top and garnish with sprigs of fresh Thyme.
If you can't get hold of Cep mushrooms, this recipe would work with pretty much any other wild mushroom available in the supermarkets...