Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Porcini Every Day

Eating fresh porcini is a treat, but you can experience the earthy goodness of bolete mushrooms throughout the year by drying some of your catch. If you've ever paid for a 1 oz package of dried porcini at the market then you know drying your own makes economical sense too.

For us West Coasters, spring porcini makes a case for drying because it's abundant and it's often wormy. Rather than tossing the wormy ones, I slice up those that aren't too badly infested and cut away the parts riddled with holes. Any worms I miss will usually exit once they realize the gig's up, and those that don't, being mostly water, evaporate into nothingness during the drying process. Besides, most of my dried porcini gets pulverized in a blender for use in stocks and sauces, so I'm not too concerned about a few pinpricks of worm dust; we eat more insects in our salads.

Drying Porcini, Step by Step

1. Slice mushrooms into 1/4 inch thickness. Discard badly wormed out bits.

2. Arrange in a single layer on screen. I use an old window screen scavenged just for this purpose. Prop up the screen at the corners with books if necessary to increase airflow underneath.

3. Place screen and mushrooms in a sunny room or outside and blast them with a portable fan. Depending on your climate, this may take a few days. Alternatively, you can place on a pan in an oven on low heat and leave the door open for air circulation; I've never tried this technique but others claim it works. A food dehydrator is another option.

4. Very important. Make sure every last mushroom slice is thoroughly dried. Some pieces will snap in half; others will be bendy but if you rip in two the inside shouldn't be at all moist. A single undried piece can spoil an entire batch with mold. On the other hand, don't overdry or you'll leach out the good flavor oils.

5. Store dried porcini carefully. My main foe is the indestructible kitchen moth, so I keep my porcini in glass mason jars with rubber-gasket lids that lock down.

Like a fine wine, the longer you age your porcini, the more the earthy essence will be concentrated. Now you've got a taste of the woods to enjoy year-round. Reconstitute a handful of pieces for a pasta sauce, or pulverize and add to your favorite beef stock for an extra boost. I use dried porcini in any number of dishes, from Oxtail Gnocchi to Braised Chicken to Chanterelle Soup.

Speaking of bolete worms, this time around I noticed an interesting phenomenon. I used six books to prop up two screens side by side. One of the books, Bill Buford's Heat appropriately enough, has a bright yellow dust jacket. The worms that crawled out of the mushrooms during the drying process all migrated to this colorful cover where they made their last stand in the sun. None of the other books exhibited evidence of worms. In fact, I've never actually seen worms escaping off their host mushrooms before, it's just something I assumed happened under the cover of darkness. It's as if they all made a break for the yellow book, thinking it salvation. Is this because the gills of old boletes are yellow? I have no idea, but I'll be using Heat again.


matt said...

I have been loving Porcini's, and actually never thought of drying my own. Makes sense, the price for dried is ridiculous (even more ridiculous than the price of fresh).

Love the story of the worms.. you should do some other color experiments with them!

Michael @ said...

I'm now envisioning Dillinger worms, wearing a gangster hat and tiny trenchcoat.

Saara said...

OMG! We found a rex-veris growing in the greenhouse last night and just fried it up. It had been half-eaten by a mouse but no worms, but we salvaged what we could. Most fantastic mushroom.
We need a years supply of these buggers! Advice? :)

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

OK, clearly we are sharing the same mind. I wrote about drying mushrooms (and other things) this morning as well. Go figger.

Langdon Cook said...

Matt - The way I use porcini (fresh and dried), I'd be shipped off to debtor's prison if I didn't forage my own.

Michael - What sort of shrooms you been snacking on lately...?

Saara - Really, a rex-veris in the greenhouse? That's weird. Aren't you on the west slope? Do you have any pictures?

Hank - Good post on the joys of drying. Add stinging nettles to the list.

audrey said...

Good to know that Buford's Heat is also useful for food prep, too. That's fascinating that the worms were color-responsive.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

So funny that the worms migrated to the book cover. That book was a good read wasn't it? Thanks for adding me to your blog roll. I'll return the favor in the next couple of weeks when I update mine too.

Saara said...

Well, I'll have to admit to not being 100% sure on the ID, but I checked 3 books and the interwebs and nothing else fit. I did consider taking a pic, but didn't. If I run across the same bolete again, I will. Spore print was brown, gills didn't stain, flesh was white, and it was otherwise velvety brown.

sally @mixedgreens said...

Dried shrooms are a staple in my pantry. Yes, I buy them at the farmers market and I'm not in debtor's prison. Yet. I use them in small amounts in risotto and polenta, and sauce - a couple of tablespoons make everything sing.
I'd love to collect and dry some of these.

Allegro said...

So if my dried porcinis have mold, I need to throw them out? I had them in a container and all was well until about a month ago when it rained for about 2 weeks straight. Now I discovered mold in the container. I have quite a large amount...I would hate to have to dump them.

Tony Palmer said...

The porcini(king boletas) I dried in my drier evaporator all turned black on the underside. They don't look anything like the dried ones. What have I done wrong?

Langdon Cook said...

Tony - A few possibilities here. Specimens from the Leccinum genus, as opposed to Boletus, will turn gray or even black in the dehydrator. More likely, I suspect, is that your mushrooms were either water-logged (though those usually turn dark brown) or else you had the dehydrator too hot. I run my dehydrator at 125-140 degrees for the first half-hour to get any critters moving out, then reduce to about 110 to 115 for the next several hours. If I'm drying overnight I might keep it at 105. Good luck with the next batch.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this article - thank you.

The worms thing though! It makes me uncomfortable.

Only yesterday I bought several boxes of dried porcini and shitake mushrooms. I'm trying not to think about worms.

Ignorance is truly bliss.