Sunday, June 29, 2008

Buttoned Up

You say you didn't land any spring kings despite the fisheries biologists' predictions of a banner year? Me neither. But spring Chinook are not the only kings of the season. The fungal kingdom has its own spring royalty—king boletes—and though the exact species name is up for grabs, we can all agree that what the Italians simply call porcini is out there on the East Slope of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada right now.

I love hunting for spring kings and I love eating them. In Washington these mushrooms seem to be most prevalent around true firs, although experience shows that certain hardwoods can be important too. They start popping as early as April in California and Oregon, but here in Washington I don't bother checking my patches until June, usually as the morel harvest is waning. Queen's cup lilies are a good indicator for timing.

Professional foragers grade their mushrooms for market. No. 3's are the big mature kings that can be spotted even from a speeding car. Also called "flags," they're often useful beacons for finding the more desirable no. 2's and no. 1's. The former have just emerged from the duff and are still firm, with convex caps and white pores underneath the cap; the latter are harder to see because they're still in the "button" phase underground, with caps that have just started to open. A trained eye can see the mounded duff that buttons push up, known as "mushrumps" to hungry mycophagists. Hunting for no. 1 buttons is good sport.

Here's a video that shows the habitat and the progression of looking for spring kings, from flag to button:

While I usually dry my excess boletes for later use in soups and stews, apparently you can freeze the buttons, so this year I've vacuum-sealed and frozen about 10 pounds of porcini buttons. I'll post the results after thawing and cooking the first batch later this summer when the flush is over.

In the meantime, I'll be eating fresh porcini with morning eggs, sauteed for lunch sandwiches, and prepared in all manner of ways for dinner, from pasta sauces to grilled to stewed. Their meatiness and nutty-woodsy flavor make porcini one of the great treats in all of fungaldom.


Laurie Constantino said...

I can't wait for bolete season here. I'm like you, I dry them, but I've bought frozen whole ones in Italy and their flavor persists although their texture isn't as good as fresh, in my opinion. With just erupted perfect boletes I like shaving them thin, shaving fennel bulb then, and shaving parmesan and layering them in a salad. So good. Like I said, I can't wait!

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

10 pounds of porcinis?! Wow. Note to self: Spend vacation time hunting mushrooms with FOTL next year...

t-mos said...

nicely done finny! don't forget to post about the success of freezing. i dried mine but haven't reconstituted any yet.

Martha Silano said...

Fungaldom! What a great word. I loved the video showing the habitat and then SURPRISE! the little kings hiding out in the understory. You make it seem so easy, but of course you probably spend hours finding that prime spot?

Anonymous said...

Lang... hope you are doing well... that pic you have of the vacu-sealed porcinis... do you freeze them that way or is that for fridge storage?

Langdon Cook said...

Hey, thanks for the comments everyone. I've been out in the high desert canyonlands going after huge trout with huge salmonfly patterns and leaving the posting to "Draft Blogger." If you don't know about the scheduling tool in Draft Blogger, check it out--a great way to keep comment fresh even while you're hundreds of miles from the nearest wifi.

Laurie: I'm looking forward to a post on Alaskan boletes. I can only imagine the fruiting is epic, like everything else up there.

Hank: I'm down with that!

Brother Leech: You'll be interested in my next post. Will let you know how the frozen buttons turn out.

Marty: If anyone knows about my hours invested, it's you...

Happy Fourth all!!