What entices people to spend nearly $20 a pound for a mushroom?

With chanterelles, perhaps it's the vivid color, ranging from shades of bright yellow to golden orange. Or it could be the unusual trumpet shape with its delicate, ruffled edge. Then again, it may be the fungi's distinct, almost nutty flavor, reminiscent of apricots. Of course, the fact that they retain all of the above traits after cooking may also draw us to this luxurious indulgence.

Chanterelles, which are available from late summer through early winter, are expensive because they are relatively scarce and must be handpicked. But they can be an affordable indulgence for special occasions; half a pound amply serves two to three as a side dish.

How to select:

Choose plump mushrooms that are fully shaped; pass over shriveled or dried, broken caps.

How to store:

Chanterelles should be used as quickly as possible. If they must be refrigerated, store them in a paper--not plastic--bag.

How to serve:

Remove any clinging dirt with a damp cloth or paper towel. French chefs would never think of rinsing mushrooms under water; they say mushrooms will absorb the moisture, resulting in a mushy texture.

The subtle flavor of chanterelles is best when unencumbered by other, more dominant flavors. Simply heat butter (or a combination of butter and olive oil) until hot and add whole or sliced mushrooms. Fry quickly over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have released all of their liquid and become crisp on the outside (7 to 10 minutes). Be careful: Chanterelles tend to toughen when even slightly overcooked.

A simple saute of cooked chanterelles makes a divine accompaniment to omelets or other egg dishes. They also pair nicely with herbs, with other mushrooms in a ragout, or with pork, chicken, beef, veal or salmon. Sauteed chanterelles can also be added to a cream or bechamel sauce, or sprinkled over vinaigrette-tossed mixed greens.

Although it needs no embellishment, its subtle flavor can be accentuated by adding chopped dried apricots. Or add a touch of lemon juice and white wine toward the end of cooking, then sprinkle with parsley; serve over pasta, with polenta, on crostini or as a side dish.

Many chefs trim and discard the stems, but given the high cost, why not just scrape and chop them for duxelles, a classic French preparation of finely chopped mushrooms and onions or shallots sauteed in butter? Brian McBride, chef at Melrose, sautes the minced stems in butter, then purees them with more butter. He sautes the caps separately and serves the mushroom butter and caps with a sauteed fish fillet, such as bass.

Louis Papuchis, head buyer for Cooseman's, a specialty produce supplier, loves chanterelles. For his newfound treat, he sautes them in butter, douses them with cognac and sets them aflame for just an instant.

But for a no-hassle, lovely presentation, simply toss whole chanterelles with olive oil and herbs and roast in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes.