Where Chefs are Foraging for Food this Fall
This golden-colored, meaty fungus is favored by just about every chef because of its flower-like shape and aroma, a taste that is simultaneously peppery and woodsy, and a texture that is both chewy and creamy when it’s cooked just right.
Fresh uses: Best when lightly sautéed in butter and served simply as a topping for other proteins like chicken and meaty fish. Or pan-fry them for a caramelized, slightly crispy garnish with soups and purées.
Applications: Chef Fred Brash, assistant professor at the Culinary Institute of America and an expert on foraging, makes a creamy, French-style mushroom ragout with chanterelles and other wild mushrooms, combined with garlic or black garlic, cream, demi-glace, sherry vinegar, and fresh tarragon. Pair it as a topping with pasta, potatoes, polenta, or chicken dishes.
Sassafras has been touted as an ancient healing plant, but it’s also the main flavor of traditional root beer.
Where to find: Eastern United States. Hard to miss since some sassafras trees grow up to 85 feet tall, and yield a sweet and citric, fragrant smell.
Fresh uses: Chef Nate Allen of Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, cooks the woodsy bits down to create a flavor enhancer for coffee, tea, desserts, and brines.
Applications: Chef Charlie Foster of Woods Hill Table in Concord, Massachusetts, cooks down the root for a glaze with orange peel and tamarind, which he brushes over pork rib chops.
To preserve, simply concentrate the cooked-down sassfras as a syrup, tea, or sauce, and store in jars or frozen.
The root is regulated by some local governments because of its use in drugs.
All acorns can be eaten, but the type of tree dictates how much work one would have to do to make them edible.
Fresh uses: Acorns can be used in a variety of baked goods to add a nutty flavor.
Applications: Rob Connoley, chef/owner of Bulrush STL in St. Louis and author of Acorns & Cattails: A Modern Foraging Cookbook of Forest, Farm & Field, makes a classic financier using acorns. Houston Chef Jordan Asher grinds dried acorns into a flour that he combines with black sesame purée, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a touch of water and all-purpose flour, creating a “soil-like” consistency that is plated with roasted, fermented carrots, candied orange rinds, and a salad of pea shoots, nasturtium petals, fennel fronds, and green coriander seeds.
These grapes are sweeter and tarter than their industrialized cousins, with a robust and rich texture.
Where to find: The vines grow in wooded areas throughout the Midwest and into the East, wherever there’s lush, undisturbed soil.
Fresh uses: In salads or as a sweet and tart garnish for savory dishes.
Applications: Chef Shane Graybeal of Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago makes a sweet, tart, and creamy sauce as a crème fraîche for fish, chicken, and even steak. He’ll often serve the sauce atop roasted bass and celery root, with a salad of the grape tendrils and wild dandelions.
This relative of tropical fruit is native to North America and most closely resembles cherimoya because of its taste—a cross between a banana, pineapple, and mango. It has a super-short two-week season.
Where to find: Papaw grows wild along riverbanks from northern Florida to Canada, in Kentucky and surrounding states, and as far west as Texas and Nebraska.
Fresh uses: Simply dice and serve in fruity salads.
Applications: Chef Anthony Lamas of Seviche in Louisville, Kentucky, uses the papaw fruit in flan for its creamy, custard-like texture and tropical taste, reminiscent of his Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage. He uses frozen papaw pulp for an habanero pepper–spiked jam spread over warm brie, in ice cream topped with bourbon dulce de leche and toasted marcona almonds, and for a beurre blanc sauce served with halibut and couscous.