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How To Prepare Dried Mushrooms for Cooking

Dried mushrooms are often listed as an essential pantry item by many accomplished cooks. They may not be right there on top with olive oil and sacks of rice but they usually hold their own somewhere in the middle, especially if you cook Asian or European cuisines. Dried mushrooms can be pricy, but they pack a lot of flavor. Once the mushrooms are soaked, strained, and chopped, even just a small amount will add enormous flavor to a dish. Here’s how to make the most of your dried mushrooms.

Once an exotic, somewhat obscure item, dried mushrooms are easily available in many grocery stores these days. They fall roughly into two categories: Asian mushrooms like shiitake, wood ear, cloud ear, and matsutake, and European/American mushrooms like porcini, morel, trumpet, and chanterelle. Their quality, flavor, and amount of grit can vary considerably. Price is often a good guide as the pricier versions tend to be of higher quality and lower grit. Purchase your mushrooms from a reliable source or find a brand that you can rely on for quality. They will last a very long time — a year, if not more — if kept in a well-sealed container.

Dried mushrooms need to be reconstituted with water before you can use them, and this produces two wonderful things: the mushrooms themselves and their flavorful soaking liquid. Both can be used in soups, stews, sauces, pâtés, and gratins. Often dried mushrooms are used in conjunction with not-so-flavorful button mushrooms to give them a boost. Dried mushrooms add a rich, meaty, savory note and are high in umami.

The Grit

One of the big challenges with dried mushrooms is grit. Dried mushrooms are notoriously gritty and it only takes the tiniest amount of it to ruin a whole dish. Some people have even given up on dried mushrooms due to the fact that they can’t seem to get the grit out. Soaking as we explain here will remove the majority of it, and rinsing, too, will often take care of the rest.

Cheap and low-grade mushrooms tend to have more grit, and the amount of grit can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, depending on how they handle the mushrooms. Ask around, find a brand you like, and stick with them.

The Soak

The best way to reconstitute dried mushrooms is to simply soak them in water. Many recipes call for hot or warm water but it isn’t always necessary to use hot water. Room temperature water will also soften the mushrooms and many people believe it extracts less of the flavor from the mushrooms, leaving more mushroomy flavor right there in the mushroom where it belongs.

I experimented for this post and reconstituted 2 batches of thinly sliced, dried porcinis, 1/2 ounce each, taken from the same packet. One batch was soaked in hot water and the other in room temperature water, both for 1/2 hour. The results were interesting: I found that not only did the mushrooms soften almost as quickly in room temperature water as they did in hot water, but the room temp mushrooms did indeed hang onto more flavor. The batch of mushrooms softened in hot water was less flavorful and their soaking broth was significantly darker.

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  • Charles Henry
  • May 20 2022
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