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.
Why 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!
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 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!
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.
If 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:
Here's a simple porcini recipe that really showcases the flavor. This can be used with dried mushrooms as well. You'll need:
Now follow these simple steps:
Now about that trip to Italy.....
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The second and fourth pictures were taken by Karsten Dörre and are published on Wikipedia under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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