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.
MEASURE THE MUSHROOMS
Most recipes call for dried mushrooms to be measured in weight. Weigh the mushrooms, then place them in a bowl.
COVER THE MUSHROOMS WITH WATER
Cover generously with water and gently push on the mushrooms to submerge them into the water.
SOAK YOUR MUSHROOMS
Soaking time will vary depending on the size and thickness of the mushrooms. Most thinly sliced mushrooms will be rehydrated in 20 to 30 minutes. Thicker and whole cap mushrooms may take a little longer — you can rush this a bit by soaking them in hot water. Mushrooms are ready to use when they have softened all the way through.
REMOVE THE MUSHROOMS FROM THE LIQUID
When the mushrooms are soft, lift them from the water using your fingers or a spoon, squeezing them lightly to remove as much water as possible.
RINSE THE MUSHROOMS
Taste a mushroom. If you detect any grittiness, you’ll need to rinse them. Place the mushrooms in a strainer and run them under the faucet for several seconds, tossing them and making sure all the grit is gone. Your mushrooms are now ready for your recipe.
STRAIN THE SOAKING LIQUID
Place the strainer over the second bowl and line with a coffee filter or paper towel. Pour the soaking liquid into the strainer and allow it to drain through. Discard the filter. Use the soaking liquid in your recipe or store in the refrigerator in a covered container for about one week (or freeze for up to 3 months).
FASTER REHYDRATED MUSHROOMS
If you’re in a hurry, use warm or hot water to soak your mushrooms. Your mushrooms will soften more quickly, but more of their flavor will be extracted into the soaking water.