I’ve heard hunting for black trumpet mushrooms compared to looking for black holes in the woods, and that isn’t far from the truth. Even mycologist Chuck Barrows, (a guy who found undiscovered species of porcini and has them named after him) didn’t even find his first one until he was an elderly man.
Until I started finding them on my own, I researched everything I could find on them. What I discovered was exciting, and maddening. You see, there isn’t just one type of “black trumpets”, there are a number of them, and some are more elusive than others.
A Rare Black Trumpet Mushroom
The fragrant is one of those more rare varieties of black trumpet mushroom. What it is exactly is up for debate a bit though. From my experience hunting in the Midwest, what people call “fragrants” could be one of two different species depending on what they’ve picked, either craterellus cinereus variation multiplex or craterellus foetidus.
This is part of the confusion that arises with using common names to describe things as opposed to the exact Latin name, if we just say we found some “fragrants” it doesn’t tell us exactly the mushroom we picked. If we use the Latin name, we know exactly what they are, this is easier said than done though.
I’m a chef, not a mycologist, but here’s some differences I’ve noticed that help me tell the two more rare black trumpet species apart.
- Grows clustered like black trumpets
- Very strong aroma
- Walls of the mushroom are much thicker than typical black trumpets
- May appear white from above or with age
- Delicate chanterelle-like ridges at the top of the mushroom
- I find these grow singularly like golden chanterelles, as well as clustered, but not as densely clustered as Cinereus
- Chanterelle-like ridges are much more pronounced at the top of the cap
- Mushrooms are still slightly vase shaped and hollow, but are much more meaty and thick than cinereus or fallax
- Solid, base/stem like a golden chanterelle
No matter what you call them though, both craterellus foetidus and craterellus cinereus taste great, and are exciting to find.
I like both species even more than typical trumpets, I find their aroma stronger, their taste sweeter, and their texture more meaty. I also find the ones that I’ve picked to be much less bitter than other black trumpets. These are minute details though, and in then end saying one is better is a bit like saying 70 % chocolate is inferior to 75%.
Thoughts on Hunting and Cooking
- Fragrants are tricky to find, but once you uncover some areas where easy-to-hunt golden chanterelles grow, you’re on the right track, since they like the same habitat. In Minnesota, I see them where I find trumpets: deciduous forests near moist, shady areas, and around oaks, specifically white.
- Like typical black trumpets, they seem to have an affinity for moist areas containing some decay.
- A great trick I’ve used is looking for collections of rain water, or tiny ponds in the woods, then scouting the peripheries for the win. Looking for golden chanterelles in similar wet areas, which are much easier to spot, and then meticulously combing the surrounding area has given good results too though.
- Just like black trumpets, but unlike golden chanterelles, fragrants dry well, since they’re still hollow.
- Because fragrants have more structure to them, they won’t wilt and lose as much volume as trumpets, so they are great sauteed on their own, whereas I might put trumpets more often in a sauce to spread them out.
- Of course they pair great with cream, but most mushrooms do. My favorite way to cook them is fresh, simply, and as whole as possible, lightly browned in some butter, and then added to a dish.
Of course I can’t leave you without sharing a fun recipe, so here’s one of the best things I made with them so far, it’s a warm brown butter-mushroom vinaigrette for a salad. It’s a good example of how to cook them simply so they shine in the dish.
Cisco With Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Brown Butter Vinaigrette and Summer Greens
Gather a salad, cook some fish, then saute some mushrooms in a large amount of butter with a little lemon and spoon it on top. Easy Peasy.
I had fish on hand, so that’s what I used, you could easily leave out the fish entirely or add a chicken leg in it’s place, or just have mushroom vinaigrette and greens, etc.
Serves 2 as a light entree or lunch
- 2 three ounce filets of cisco, a.k.a tillabee or lake herring, or another mild lake fish, like brown trout
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 4 oz unsalted butter
- Fresh lemon juice or champagne vinegar, to taste
- 1 T fresh cut chives
- 1 T flavorless cooking oil, for sauteing the fish and mushrooms
- A couple fresh thyme sprigs, and a clove of garlic whacked with your fist, for basting the fish (optional)
- 3 ounces of salad greens per person, or more depending on appetite
- 3 ounces (a good handful)“fragrant” black trumpets, cleaned
For the summer greens, use whatever is the freshest, but steer towards sweet greens, as opposed to those that are more bitter, like frisee or chicory, a little won’t hurt, but don’t overdo the bitter. Here’s what I picked from the yard:
- Daylily flowers
- Wild lettuces
- Lettuce hearts
- Speckled romaine leaves
- Fresh sliced radishes
Gather your greens, whatever you’re using, then clean in cold water if needed and dry. I like to roll fresh greens up very gently in a towel to soak up extra water if they are saturated, since that will dilute any dressing. Reserve the greens until needed.
Season the fish with salt and pepper. Heat the butter on medium heat in a large saute pan until it toasts, and begins to smell like nuts, then add the fish, skin side down, and the fragrant trumpets. Cook until the fish is caramelized and golden on the underside and the mushrooms are cooked through.
Next Add the thyme sprigs and garlic clove to the pan, then continue to cook the fish, skin side down, basting occasionally with the fat from the pan, until just cooked through. If the fish starts to fall apart, you have over cooked it, be careful.
To plate the dish, arrange the greens on plates, then top with the fish and mushrooms, reserving the browned butter left over in the pan for the vinaigrette. Add a shot or two of lemon juice or vinegar to the pan, along with the chives, season lightly to taste with salt and pepper, (taste it to make sure it’s great and adjust as needed) then drizzle the vinaigrette over each salad and serve immediately.