Dried mushrooms are my kind of luxury, convenient and affordable. While caviar or foie gras rarely fit my mood or budget, I can always have dried shiitakes, porcini, morels, and chanterelles on hand. And I reach for them often—both on harried weeknights when the clock is ticking and also when I’m looking for an extra boost of flavor to elevate a special dish. The flavor of dried mushrooms is concentrated and intense, and the texture is good and meaty. Like fresh mushrooms, they’re terrific in everything from soups to sauces to sautés.
Give ’em a soak. Before using dried mushrooms in a recipe, even if it’s a soup or a stew, it’s best to rehydrate them in hot water. This is necessary for two reasons: First, it plumps up the mushrooms, and, as a bonus, the soaking liquid creates a flavorful broth, which you can incorporate into a dish much as you would any other kind of broth. Second, soaking also helps remove grit from the mushrooms that would otherwise spoil your dish.
Once the mushrooms have steeped, it’s easy to add them to braises, stews, or sauces. What I do is brown the meat or fish (if there’s any in the dish) and then sauté the rehydrated mushrooms with the aromatics like shallots, garlic, or onion. Because they’re moist, the mushrooms don’t exactly brown, but this quick toss in hot oil really intensifies their flavor. Finally, I add the mushroom soaking liquid and finish cooking the dish.
The way I see it, there’s no set rule for which mushroom to pair with a specific dish. It makes sense to look to the mushroom’s native region, using Italian porcini in risotto, shiitakes in Asian dishes, and chanterelles in French sauces and bistro classics like omelettes. But I often mix shiitakes with other kinds of mushrooms, particularly when I’m using a pricey variety like morels. It’s a little trick of mine. Shiitakes’ flavor perfectly complements that of other mushrooms, and their affordability keeps the meal in the realm of simple, home cooking, just where it belongs.
Versatile, affordable dried shiitakes are my go-to mushroom. Their meaty texture and smoky flavor is great on its own or paired with other varieties. Shiitakes are an obvious choice for Asian dishes, filling out soy-based braises or stews or perking up quick stir-fries.
Look for shiitakes with thick brown caps ridged with white. The stems can be woody, so trim them off and discard after soaking.
Chewy, succulent, and intensely flavorful, dried porcini (or cèpes) have a deep, earthy essence that complements Italian seasonings and is delicious with pork and chicken.
Porcini (pronounced pour-CHEE-nee) have thick stems and broad caps and are generally sliced before they’re dried. After rehydrating them, you can use them just as you would fresh mushrooms.
The golden, apricot hue of chanterelles befits their bright, fruity flavor. Their size can vary from tiny blossom-like specimens to impressive 5-inch trumpets, and in the dried form, they can be quite pricey. When rehydrated, their texture is pleasantly chewy; the stems, however, can be woody, so after soaking, trim off tough stems and discard them. Pair chanterelles with eggs and cream sauces.
Nutty, buttery, and somewhat smoky, dried morels go beautifully with spring ingredients like asparagus and spring onions (or ramps, if you can find them). The hollow, honeycombed caps of wild morels can harbor sandy grit. With cultivated varieties this isn’t as much of a problem, but to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to rinse morels with water before soaking them.
Simple ways to use dried mushrooms
When you have dried mushrooms in the pantry, there are lots of quick and simple ways to use them in your everyday cooking. Once you rehydrate them, they can go just about anywhere fresh mushrooms can go.
• Stir them into pilafs and other rice dishes.
• Add them to tomato or cream-based pasta sauces.
• Spoon them onto polenta.
• Stir them into pan sauces for chops and cutlets.
• Add them to stir-fries.
• Sauté with green beans or snap peas.
• Add them to eggs: Sauté rehydrated dried mushrooms with shallots and butter and fold into omelets, frittatas, or scrambled eggs.
• Make flavored butter: Pulse rehydrated morels or chanterelles with softened butter and a fresh herb like thyme in a food processor. Use right away or shape into a log, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate. Pats of the butter are delicious on roasted or grilled meats and vegetables.
How to soak dried mushrooms
Put the mushrooms in a medium heatproof bowl. For Leek & Morel Strata, Wild Mushroom Ragoût, and Risotto with Peas & Porcini, pour in 2 cups boiling water and weight down the mushrooms with a small plate so the mushrooms are submerged. (If you’re using smaller or larger amounts of mushrooms, just use enough water to completely submerge them.)
Soak until they’re plumped and softened, about 20 minutes (some varieties might take longer). Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mushrooms to a cutting board, squeezing any excess liquid from the mushrooms back into the soaking liquid. Let cool. Remove and discard any tough stems. Coarsely chop the mushrooms. Strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel set in a sieve. Set aside the mushroom “broth” for use in your dish or freeze for another time.
Excerpt from: Fine Cooking by Tony Rosenfeld; Photos by Scott Phillips