Tim Maddams, private chef, cookery teacher, presenter and writer, on summer mushrooms of all shapes and sizes
What’s in season?
In terms of woodland species, it all kicks off in mid-July (or a little earlier, depending on the weather) with the chanterelle—the firm yellow chanterelle, cantharellus cibarius, as opposed to globiformis, which is a black and yellow, tubular winter chanterelle—and French girolles. We’ll then start to see some porcini and ceps, as well as fairy rings which spring up when the days start shortening. Chicken of the woods starts to show quite early—it grows on dying or dead trees.
Then all the meadow species start to emerge, such as the common field mushroom—you have to be careful when foraging for those, as they look a lot like a mushroom called a yellow stainer, which can cause a nasty gastric upset. We also get interesting stuff like giant puffballs, which is probably the safest possible mushroom to pick, and very tasty.
How should we prep them?
Foraged mushrooms will always have a few worm holes in them, but they’re nothing to be concerned about. If you’re going to worry about removing every single little insect, you’re probably not the kind of person that should be eating wild mushrooms. You don’t need to peel mushrooms—if you wash them and give them a good scrub, they’ll be fine. With porcinis or chanterelles, I might scrape the stems down with a knife and wipe the tops with a lightly damp kitchen towel.
If you do trim your mushrooms, be sure to get all the flavour out of the trimmings: saute them, give them a real hammering, then pass through a fine sieve or muslin and add the resulting juices back in with your mushrooms. Particularly with chanterelles, the flavour is immense.
How should we use them?
What grows together, goes together. Look out for blackberries and get involved with a bit of grouse, or maybe pigeon—they’re the wild larder ingredients of the moment.
My advice for the puffball would be more heat, less fat—it will just soak it up like a sponge. Field mushrooms I like to grill on the barbecue, dressed with lemon, garlic and a little fresh thyme. Think of them like steak, in terms of cooking—you want to cook them until they start giving off a bit of moisture, but not so much that they dry up.
It’s very hard to imagine a better thing to do with fresh ceps or porcini mushrooms than make a risotto with good chicken stock—except maybe pizza bianco, with shed-loads of shaved mushrooms, garlic, a drizzle of oil and a bit of thyme, baked in the oven with mozzarella. But my absolute favourite thing to do with summer mushrooms is just saute them all together in some bacon fat and eat them on toast.
What’s the best way to store them?
Never freeze mushrooms without cooking them first—they don’t respond to it well. Drying is preferred, and pickling is good as well: the Italian technique of blanching them in vinegar water then keeping them in oil, ‘sotto olio’, is great, particularly firmer species such as chanterelles and porcinis.
Where can we find them?
You’ll find the likes of chanterelles, field and button mushrooms at Fitz Fine Foods, courtesy of expert forager Noel Fitzjohn. Look for fairy rings and girolles at Paul Wheeler Fresh Supplies or Elsey and Bent, and for more exotic fungi such as puff balls and chicken of the woods, head to Turnips.