Cinnabar "Red" Chanterelles
Chanterelles are known for their exquisite and delicate flavor (and aroma) as well as being one of the more accessible fungi of the woods because of their ubiquity and the relative simplicity of identification. They’re also notably gorgeous, like little yellow or orange gladiola blooms speckling the forest floor. Cinnabar chanterelles (cantharellus cinnabarinus) are not unlike chanterelles in that they also have a lovely flavor and character, with a slightly more bitter note on the palate reminiscent of pine resin and black pepper.
How to identify a cinnabar chanterelle?
In some ways, these might be a bit easier to identify than the classic golden chanterelle (cantharellus cibarius) in that they will not be easily mistaken for a Jack O Lantern (omphalotus illudens) due to the fact that Jacks are orange and Red Chants are, well, red. Nonetheless, many of the cues used to identify a classic golden chanterelle will still hold true. The Red Chant will have false gills. Rather than appearing like a blade hanging from the underside of the cap, the gills of a red chant will be more like veins, forking and rejoining somewhat randomly. Imagine someone’s arm when they flex or their neck when they are angry and these will be more akin to what you’ll see on a chanterelle, whether it’s red or golden or another varietal. Also, like the golden chanterelles, red chants will be mostly white on the inner flesh. They will peel apart almost like string cheese. They will also grow late summer into the fall.
Possibly the biggest giveaway that its a red chant is all of the previous characteristics combined with the fact that they are RED! The other red mushrooms that will be out around the same time as a red chant are mostly red russulas, fly agarics, and waxy caps. Russulas are common mushrooms with a solid white stem and white gills that are all very uniform and unforked. Fly agarics (amanita muscaria) typically have big white “warts” on top of their cap and have a white gills, white stem, with a ring around it, and an egglike cup that they are growing from. Truth be told, both russulas and fly agarics have almost no resemblance to a red chant except for the red coloration on top of the cap.
The most likely culprit to misidentify as a red chanterelle is a waxy cap. The red waxy caps are numerous and though they have true gills, they are fatter and forked more than the gills of other fungi and can be a little easier to mistake for false gills. Their gills may fork but typically just before the margin (or the rim) of the cap of the mushroom. You will never see waxy caps have two gills that moving away from the stem toward the margin of the cap will suddenly join. Or where two gills reconnect after forking. Nor will you see gills that have smaller gills perpendicular to the main gill. These are all characteristics you might see on the false gills of a red chanterelle (or any chanterelle,
for that matter). Another clue is the time of year the mushroom is growing. Red chanterelles are typically warmer weather mushrooms, growing from July into the fall. The waxy caps are colder weather mushrooms. If you are looking at what you think is a red chant in July or August, it’s probably not a waxy cap, which tend to grow in 50 or 60 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Waxy caps are also usually a much more delicate and even flimsy mushroom. It’s worth noting that there are some “good” edible waxy caps, notably the scarlet waxy cap (a species complex) which are reddish and considered good. There are many number of “edible but forgettable”--as David Arora likes to say--red waxy caps, but there are not any deadly toxic waxy caps that would be mistaken for a red chant. There are a few red waxy caps that are known to cause upset stomach, indigestion or illness, so be sure of your identification!
A final important note is that red chanterelles, like classic golden chanterelles, will typically grow in mixed hardwood/softwood forests among pine, oak, beech and aspen. Often this will be mid slope or maybe along the edges of forests or in clearings. The soil is likely to be mossy or a sandy humus that is well drained. It is very likely to be growing in an area where chanterelles would also be found in.
How to use Red Chants in the Kitchen?
To be honest, I have not been lucky enough to find this beautiful mushroom. I have looked extensively for it and chalked up my not finding it to a belief that it simply doesn’t grow where I live in MN. I’ve looked for it in much of the central and northeastern parts of the state with no luck. Just a couple days ago, a friend and neighbor came to me heralding this beautiful bounty they found on their land in the driftless region of southern Minnesota and Wisconsin (a place where I have not yet hunted for these fanciful fungal creatures)! Though they only harvested a few, not completely sure what they were, they gave those few to me as a gift and I quickly sauteed them in butter with a little salt and pepper and threw them on some of my homemade sourdough with avocado for a breakfast. They were excellent! I think red chants have that balance of subtle citrus, nuttiness and spice that lends itself to Morrocan, Mexican or southeast Asian cuisine. I also think they, like their sister the golden chanterelle, would do quite well pickled and thrown into charcuterie boards, pizzas, baguettes or salads.
Special thanks and shout out to the Sather family and Hygge Hus (follow on Instragram @Hyggehus) as they and their land supplied me with these beautiful mushrooms!