Porcini mushrooms, sold both fresh and dried, are prized in Italian and French cuisine. These popular mushrooms (also known as king bolete or cèpe in French) are cultivated in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia, and grow naturally in pine forests at the base of trees. Autumn is porcini season in central Europe, with much of the carefully picked harvest dried for later consumption or export. Fresh porcini are beloved by gourmet chefs and can be sautéed and eaten as a side dish or added to risottos and pasta, while the dried mushrooms add rich flavor to broths and stews.
What Are Porcini Mushrooms?
Porcini mushrooms are brown-capped mushrooms with thick, white stalks. The caps can range in size from an inch to nearly a foot, but most collected specimens are no more than a few inches. The caps have a convex shape when young, giving them the ideal appearance for mushrooms, and require no prep other than a quick clean. Because of their status in fine cuisine, their short season, and how difficult they are to cultivate, porcini mushrooms can be pricey. A pound of fresh porcini costs between $30-$60 depending on the quality, with dried mushrooms priced a little lower.
How to Cook With Porcini Mushrooms
Porcini mushrooms should not be soaked in water or even rinsed if possible. Use a dry or slightly damp paper towel to wipe any dirt off of each mushroom just before using. Excess water will cause the delicate mushrooms to deteriorate before cooking.
To prepare dried porcini, steep them in just enough warm water to cover for 20 to 30 minutes or until they've softened and expanded. Drain them and reserve the liquid for use as broth in a soup or risotto.
What Do Porcini Mushrooms Taste Like?
Porcini mushrooms are often described as nutty and earthy with a meatiness in flavor and texture. They have a similar taste to other, more common mushrooms, but with a deeper and nuttier flavor. Fresh mushrooms have a tender, meaty texture when cooked. Dried porcini add a deep, mushroom flavor to broths or sauces and, once rehydrated, have a slightly chewy texture.
Porcini Mushroom Recipes
Fresh porcini mushrooms can be sautéed, braised, fried, grilled, or stewed. They tend to be prepared simply (such as sautéed) to maintain their flavor and texture. Served as a side dish or added to risotto or pasta, they are a seasonal treat. The broth produced by soaking dried porcini adds a depth of flavor to soups and recipes that use stock, and the rehydrated mushrooms can be chopped and added to dishes.
If you're lucky enough to find fresh porcini mushrooms, make a simple sauté or add them to risotto. Risotto can also be made using dried porcini and cremini or white mushrooms. For an extra mushroomy barley soup, add dried porcini and replace some of the broth with the soaking liquid.
Where to Buy Porcini Mushrooms
Fresh porcini are a rare treat, appearing for a short month or two in autumn and sometimes again in the late spring. They can sometimes be found sold by the ounce or small container in specialty markets and farmers' markets while in season. Dried porcini are available year-round at Italian and specialty markets or online.
Porcini mushrooms should be firm with unblemished white stalks and brown caps, not nicked or broken. If the undersides of the caps have a yellowish-brown tinge to them, the mushrooms are almost too ripe, and if they have black spots on them or the under caps are deep green, they're already too ripe.
When purchasing dried porcini, avoid any packages with lots of small crumbs. These mushrooms are likely old and lacking in flavor. Also, they should have a heady mushroom aroma.
How to Store Porcini Mushrooms
Store fresh, unwashed porcini mushrooms in a loose paper bag in the crisper of the fridge. They'll keep for a few days, but don't wait to cook these precious fungi. They're best used right away. Dried porcini should be kept in an airtight container in a dark, cool (but not cold) place for up to six months.
Porcini vs. Shiitake
Porcini are sometimes confused with shiitake mushrooms. Both mushrooms are commonly sold dried and rehydrated for use in broths, soups, and sauces. Shiitake mushrooms have a meatier flavor with less earthy mushroom taste and cost less than porcini. They serve as a more economical replacement for dried porcini mushrooms if you would prefer a meatier flavor.