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
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.