Porcini Mushrooms: Gourmet Edibles

Porcini mushrooms are a famous, and delicious, addition in Italian cuisine. Due to their strong nutty flavor, this is an incredibly popular gourmet mushroom.

Like so many other good edible mushrooms, porcini are mycorrhizal. This means that the underground vegetative growth of the mushroom, called the mycelia, enters into a symbiotic relationship with the roots of plants.

Porcini mushrooms are mycorrhizal fungiWhy would you care as a chef? It means that because of this complex relationship that occurs in nature, porcini aren't easily cultivated. So depending on where you live they could be hard to find fresh and more expensive to purchase.

Can't afford a trip to Italy? No problem! This page will provide you with information about porcini mushrooms, the king bolete. We'll start with some basic facts, move on to what to look for when purchasing, and end with how to prepare. I've also thrown in a simple recipe to get you started. Bon Appétit!

 

Basic Facts

 

  • The name porcini means "piglets" in Italian. They're also known as the king bolete, cèpe (in French), Steinpilz (the "stone mushroom" in German), and a host of other fun names from all over the world. The Latin name is Boletus edulis.
  • The term "porcini mushroom" actually refers to a few different species. The most sought after is Boletus edulis, or the king bolete. This is the mushroom people refer to when they say porcini.
  • Porcini mushrooms may grow a rather large cap, up to 12 inches in diameter. It's usually brown or reddish-brown with a slightly sticky texture.
  • The underside of the cap is made up of a spongy material. Look closely; you'll see the tiny tubes from which spores are released. Species of the bolete genus have tubes instead of gills for spore dispersal. The spore print is a dark green-brown.
  • boletus edulis - the porcini mushroomPorcini are known for their thick stem. The picture on the right is a good representation of an average fat porcini stem.
  • They form a mycorrhizal relationship with pine trees. Mycorrhizal fungi form beneficial, symbiotic relationships with the roots of plants. The plant gets better access to water and nutrients through the larger surface area of the fungal mycelia, and the fungus gets access to sugars that the plant produces.
  • You can find porcini mushrooms on the ground in hardwood forests near pine, chestnut, hemlock, and spruce. They fruit in the summer to fall.
  • They're most famously found in Italy but they're also in Europe, North America, and other parts of the world like New Zealand and South Africa.
  • These are dense mushroom are not hollow. They can weigh up to a few founds (2.2 lbs = 1 kg) when mature.

 

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Before You Buy

 

Porcini mushrooms are gourmet edibles, and their retail price reflects that. Their hearty, nutty taste is a welcome addition to many dishes.

Not only do they taste good but also they're good for you. This mushroom reportedly has a high protein content, which makes them a great meat substitute in vegetarian dishes.

Being mycorrhizal, they're not mass cultivated and not as common as the standard white button mushroom. You're more likely to see dried porcini at the grocery store than fresh.

Dried porcini mushrooms for saleDried porcini mushrooms are still very good and add a strong flavor to pasta, soups, and sauces. Try to purchase whole dried mushrooms with a strong smell. Avoid packages made up of too much dust or crumbled pieces, as the flavor is not likely to be very strong.

Fresh porcini are more common for sale in Europe than in the United States. When buying fresh, make sure you purchase only young mushrooms. A cap that is dark, soft, or covered with black spots is too mature for eating. Make sure you check the underside of the cap too.

A final thought to keep in mind when buying porcini mushrooms is that worms like them just as much as humans do. Examine the stalk for small holes. If you find them, stand the mushroom up on its cap and they'll eat their way out of the stem.

You may still have to pick out some small worms after chopping. They are harmless and quite common, so if you do accidentally eat a few you'll be fine!

 

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Porcini Mushroom Preparation

 

Now that you've acquired the king bolete it's time to add the hearty flavor to a meal.

For dried porcini mushrooms, steep them in enough boiling water to cover for 15 - 20 minutes. If your recipe calls for water or other liquids use the mushroom water after draining. This adds an even stronger flavor.

After draining, chop them and add to a recipe as you would any fresh mushroom.

Porcini mushrooms are gourmet ediblesIf starting with fresh porcini, make sure to brush them off with a damp cloth after checking for worms. Don't wash them with water unless you will be using them right away. It doesn't take long for a wet mushroom to become too soft or mushy.

After your mushrooms are cleaned and inspected, simply chop and use in your favorite Italian recipe! A famous way to prepare porcini is grilled or stewed with some thyme or nipitella. However, you can use this versatile gourmet mushroom in a variety of ways:

  • In almost any sauce
  • In soups or stews
  • Fried with or without a flour coating for an appetizer
  • As a topping for chicken, steak, or fish
  • In any pasta recipe (especially risotto!)
  • If the caps are big enough, grill the caps as you would a piece of meat
  • Canned in olive oil and then grilled or fried. This also enhances the flavor of the olive oil for use in other dishes.
  • Minced and cooked to a paste to serve on bread or with bruschetta
  • As a delicious topping for pizza

Here's a simple porcini recipe that really showcases the flavor. This can be used with dried mushrooms as well. You'll need:

  • At least 4 porcini mushrooms (or half a package of dried mushrooms, use your judgment)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 plum tomatoes for every few mushrooms (I use 2 tomatoes to 4 mushrooms)
  • Herbs of your choice (thyme is popular in Tuscany)

Now follow these simple steps:

  1. Warm the olive oil in a deep pan or pot over medium-high heat, taking care that it doesn't start to burn.
  2. Mince the garlic and sauté for about three minutes with your desired herbs.
  3. While the garlic is cooking, chop the porcini mushrooms and tomatoes.
  4. Add the mushroom pieces and cook for about 5 minutes, or until it looks like they've released all their water. They will be a lot smaller at this point.
  5. Add the tomato pieces and their juice, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. If you misjudged the amounts and it dries out, add some white wine. If using dried mushrooms, add some of the liquid used to rehydrate them.
  6. When finished, add to any meal or serve as an appetizer with bread.

Now about that trip to Italy.....

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The first picture was taken by Tocekas and is published on Wikipedia under the GNU Free Documentation License.

The second and fourth pictures were taken by Karsten Dörre and are published on Wikipedia under the GNU Free Documentation License.

The third picture was taken by Nino Barbieri and is published on Wikipedia under the GNU Free Documentation License.