Friends, the verdict is in. But first some suspense. As you'll recall, in recent weeks I've been putting a batch of frozen spring porcini through the paces in an effort to understand: a.) whether there's a preferred way to defrost the porcini; b.) whether there's a preferred way to cook with thawed porcini; and c.) if it's worth freezing porcini in the first place.
My first attempt, Test 1, was to remove the frozen porcini from its vacuum-sealed bag and let it thaw for several hours on the kitchen counter. You can read the results here.
The second test was to cook with the frozen porcini right out of the freezer. Read the results here.
My final test was to keep the porcini in its vacuum-sealed bag overnight in the refrigerator. Mushrooms are basically sponges. They're mostly water, which is why you try to cook the water out even with fresh specimens. I'm not sure exactly why, but when frozen mushrooms thaw out, unlike meats, they lose a lot of their water in the process (probably because there's cellular damage from the freezing and the mushroom simply can't contain all its moisture in the aftermath).
After thawing for 24 hours, my porcini were swimming in a small pool of liquid at the bottom of the bag—but they were still firm. Yes, they were wet and slippery on the outside and you would never want to shave raw defrosted porcini over a salad the way you might with fresh, but they were also firm, like canned button mushrooms. I preferred the texture of the thawed porcini in Test 3 to Test 1; something about not exposing the defrosting mushrooms to air is a good thing.
I tried Test 3 on two occasions, making Stroganoff one night (pictured at left) and making Jane Grigson's Poultry Stewed with Ceps another night. Let me tell you, dear readers, the Grigson recipe is a keeper, and the frozen porcini, left to thaw overnight in the refrigerator in their vacuum-sealed bag, passed with flying colors.
Poultry Stewed with Ceps
1 chicken, cut into pieces (2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs)
seasoned flour for dredging
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup brandy
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, chopped
fresh herbs, chopped
2 cups stock (or less)
1 lb porcini (ceps), caps sliced, stalks chopped
Flour chicken and brown in half the oil and all the butter. Flame with brandy, turning chicken. Add the onion, garlic, and carrot and stir in pan juices. Lower heat and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Add fresh herbs and 1 cup of stock. Cover partly. Meanwhile in a separate pan saute the porcini in remaining oil, then add to chicken. Pour in more stock if necessary. Serve over brown rice. Serves 4-6.
Whew! Now it's time to get into the woods and find some fresh porcini!