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Experimenting with Dried Mushrooms

Why use dried mushrooms?

For thousands of years, mushrooms have had a special place in the human diet, and for a variety of reasons. Did you know that the famous Iceman, frozen in a glacier in the Alps for over 5,000 years, was carrying a string of dried mushrooms? Then, and almost certainly much earlier, the value of mushrooms as an important source of food and medicine was recognized.

It's known that in ancient times, fresh mushrooms were used when available, but in many cases they were collected, dried and stored for later use. Even then, it was recognized that certain mushrooms were not always available during certain seasons.

Today, finding exotic, fresh and flavorful mushrooms of good quality can still be a daunting task. Part of the problem lies in the seasonality and comparatively short shelf life of fresh mushrooms.

Wild mushrooms, especially, are highly seasonal and, even when in available, may be difficult to find and harvest. Drying not only helps to preserve them, but also makes them more readily available year round.

Not all dried mushrooms are better than fresh, but many mushroom lovers actually prefer dried wild mushrooms for their excellent taste and concentrated flavors.

Dried mushrooms do have certain advantages over fresh. First, they can have a shelf life of a year or more when properly stored. Second, dried mushrooms can be easily reconstituted and can be used in place of fresh mushrooms in most recipes. They're always ready to go at short notice for any occasion.



How to use dried mushrooms - The basics

First, remember that reconstituted mushrooms will "plump out" to 6 - 8 times their dry weight. Only reconstitute as much as you need - once reconstituted, the mushrooms will not store well.

Reconstituting dried mushrooms is a simple process. Just follow these simple steps:

1. Place your mushrooms in a bowl large enough to accommodate all of them.

2. Cover them with warm water.

3. Let them sit in the water for about 30 minutes. Gradually, they will absorb the moisture and expand.

Tip: For added flavor, try using warmed red or white wine, Madeira, Marsala or chicken broth instead of water.

Strain or decant the liquid to avoid any unwanted residue, making sure to save the flavorful liquid for use in gravies, sauces, rice, and pasta dishes. And if you should have more than you need at the moment, save the extra liquid for future use by freezing it in ice cube trays.

4.Lastly, gently rinse the mushrooms well in running water to remove any remaining grit and set aside to drain briefly.

Your mushrooms are now ready to use!



More ideas for using dried mushrooms

Dried mushrooms can also come in a variety of forms. For example, in addition to whole mushrooms, you may find them available in granulated or powdered form.

But even if not - don't worry. You can easily create your own mushroom powder at home by grinding dried mushrooms in a spice mill, food processor or blender.

Mushroom powder is useful when you want to impart the flavor of the mushroom itself to a dish without adding whole mushrooms. Add mushroom powder to flour when making pasta or pizza dough, to flavor and thicken sauces, soups or stews, or as a coating for fish, chicken or meats.



Some of my favorite dried mushrooms

#1 - Dried Porcini Mushrooms (Boletus Edulis)

Mushroom hunters all over the world regard this mushroom as a great prize; it has a wonderful nutty flavor. Several closely related members of the Boletus family have become best known by the popular Italian name porcini, so called because when fresh, they are plump as a 'little pig' (porcino).

The porcini is one of the most versatile mushrooms and it can be used in many cooked dishes, with fish, meat, and vegetables.

#2 - Dried Morel Mushrooms (Morchella spp)

Morel mushrooms hold a special place in the hearts of many of us who grew up in the Midwest. Here, many consider it to be the only wild mushroom.

The morel is well-known for its smoky, nutty, earthy flavor and aroma. This elusive, but distinctive flavor concentrates intensely when dried. Morels also reconstitute better than almost any other mushroom. When reconstituted, the flavor is true - rich and woodsy, while the texture is close to that of the fresh mushroom.

#3 - Dried Shiitake Mushrooms (Lentinus Edodes)

The meaty flesh of the shiitake (also known as Chinese black mushroom) has a full-bodied, distinctively woodsy flavor. This versatile fungus has historically been used more frequently in its dried form than in its natural fresh state, since the flavor becomes more intense. Once reconstituted, snip off the tough stem with a pair of kitchen shears and discard or use for stock.

#4 - Dried Black Trumpet Mushrooms (Craterellus Cornucopioides)

My personal favorite among dried mushrooms is the fragrant Black Trumpet.

The unique incredibly rich and buttery flavor and texture of this mushroom has earned it a well-deserved reputation among mushroom lovers. Sometimes also known as the Horn of Plenty, it is considered a great delicacy wherever they are found.

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