By Gregg Hutson
On a brisk autumn morning in Northern Virginia, Cuisine Solutions Sous Chef Delian DiPietro and I headed into the woods to search for treasure. Not the kind of treasure you’d find buried in a wooden chest, but the edible bounty you’ll find growing on logs in forests around the country. DiPietro, armed with only a sharp pocket knife and a reusable bag (or a mushroom basket), regularly forages for mushrooms in the wilderness.
We strike out on a culinary nature walk, hoping to find some classic fall mushrooms: chanterelles, oysters, maitakes (a.k.a. hen of the woods), and any other edible fungi DiPietro can spot, as he explains how he got interested in foraging.
“I grew up in upstate New York, so we kinda just had wild stuff all around us,” he says with eyes still scouring the landscape for any telltale signs of seasonal mushrooms. “My sisters and I would dare each other to eat chives and dandelion stems. You know, like kids do, we’d pretend that we were out in the wild and had to survive… we would see wild chives, all sorts of wild herbs, and it was just kind of fun to learn.”
After DiPietro found his calling in the culinary arts, he ran into foraging again when he worked at Blue Hill in New York under renowned chef Dan Barber. “Dan was super into foraging. He would go find mushrooms every morning.”
The experience at Blue Hill opened DiPietro up even more to foraging, but it took another nudge to get him hooked. “Fast forward, I’m an executive chef and I’m actually out for a walk with my wife and our newborn daughter and my wife was like, ‘What do you think all these weird yellow things are over here?’ and I was like, ‘Those are chanterelles. Oh, my God.’”
The vibrant yellow-orange, trumpet-shaped haul rekindled something inside DiPietro, and he started serving wild mushrooms to his patrons. “It would be on a little separate thing [side menu], wild spore mushrooms, but if I couldn’t confirm it was edible, obviously I would never serve them.”
Mid-sentence, something catches DiPietro’s eye and he heads toward a fallen tree that forms a natural bridge over a small stream. Leaning over the side, he cuts off a white semi-circular fungus clinging to the log, a mushroom similar to chicken of the woods, inhales deeply, and enjoys the earthy richness and cedar-like aroma.
When asked about why he puts in the time and effort to find wild mushrooms, DiPietro answers,
“Flavor. The flavors are completely different. For me, you get a lot more—I don’t want to call it terroir—but its natural flavors are so intense.” And preparing them sous vide, he says, “accentuates everything.”
DiPietro’s delight in explaining the magic of sous vide with mushrooms is palpable, “It really intensifies those flavors. And, do a quick flash-fry to crisp them back up—you get a super-crunchy exterior and this luscious, soft, silky interior, which I love.”
DiPietro says that if you’re looking for a substantial meal and you want to reduce your meat consumption, mushrooms are an excellent choice, and they’re more environmentally friendly than meat.
A point DiPietro emphasizes is safety. Identifying mushrooms can be tricky, even with the multiple reference books and apps available to help. DiPietro recommends searching out mushroom clubs to help gain hands-on experience through knowledgeable, veteran foragers, and to always follow his number-one rule—if you’re not 100 percent sure, don’t eat it.
PRIMED FOR FORAGING
DiPietro offers a few tips for those wanting to try their hand at mushroom foraging. Look for:
For recipe ideas using wild mushrooms, pick up a copy of the Sous-Vide magazine Fall/Winter 2019 issue.
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