When we think about preserving food, canning is what often comes to mind — but there is a whole world of preservation possibilities outside the jar. This week we are talking to experts about the preserved foods they can't live without, and today James-Beard-Award-winning writer and wild foods enthusiast Hank Shaw talks about his passion for drying and pickling wild mushrooms, with plenty of recipes and ideas to get you started.
If you could only preserve one type of food, what would it be?
Wild mushrooms. No question.
Lots of reasons. First off, many wild mushrooms are actually better dried than fresh. Candy caps are probably the most dramatic example. When fresh, they are, well…okay. Dried, however, this mushroom emits a powerful aroma that’s very close to maple syrup. It’s an amazing transformation. Some mushrooms, like chanterelles or agaricus (basically a wild version of the button mushroom), don’t dry well, but they are very good pickled.
Porcini do happen to be as good fresh as dried, and while I do dry many, many pounds of porcini every year, my favorite way to put up porcini is to marinate them in the Italian way, by salting, boiling in vinegar, drying slightly, then preserving in olive oil. It’s an amazing antipasto.
Drying mushrooms couldn’t be easier. Small ones, like yellowfoot chanterelles or small morels, can be dried as-is. Larger morels, porcini, matsutake, black trumpets and other mushrooms should be split or cut into pieces before drying. I like to cut porcini into slices of about 1/8 inch thick before drying. I use a dehydrator for my mushrooms, because it’s often too cool and wet in Northern California when the mushrooms are out. You can use an oven set to “warm,” but it’s not nearly as good for most mushrooms (porcini are an exception). Black trumpets especially need to be dried at low temperatures. Dry until they snap in half crisply.
Store in mason jars in a cool, dark place. How long? Years, really. But here’s one bit of advice for storing any dried food for long periods: Buy those little dessicant packets off Amazon or wherever. They suck out moisture from the jar and will keep your 'shrooms dry. If you don’t do this, there is a chance, however small, that your hard-earned jar of dried porcini will soften and mold. You will be sad if that happens, I assure you.
Incidentally, never dry chicken of the woods mushrooms. They turn into wood.
Once preserved, what do you do with them?
Mushrooms are a cornerstone of my cooking. I especially like to use them in soups, stews, braises and pasta sauces. I use dried yellowfoot chanterelles in nearly every stock I make, and dried matsutake mushrooms in my fish and seafood broth.
Dried porcini can be ground to a powder in a coffee grinder and then used as an additive in pasta. I make a porcini ravioli with a fresh porcini filling and a dough made with dried porcini powder.
I will also sprinkle a little porcini powder on a venison steak while it’s resting. People always wonder why my venison tastes so damn good. This is one of the reasons.
You can also steep cream with dried mushrooms to make a savory custard – or if you have candy caps, which taste pretty neutral but smell like maple syrup, a sweet dessert custard, ice cream or panna cotta. You can also put dried candy caps into cookies and bread.
The possibilities are pretty wide. Any place you want a hit of umami, add dried mushrooms. And since they never really go bad — I’ve had some dried for 3 years that suffered no ill effects — they are a perfect pantry staple.
Thank you, Hank!