For Bon Appetit, by Elyssa Goldberg.
There are a few places where I feel clueless in the grocery store: in the egg aisle deciphering labels, in the frozen section where I assume everything is blah, and at that one end-cap display where dried chiles and mushrooms dangle in their perfect little packages. I see words I recognize — morel, porcini, maitake — but I have no idea how to use them, and I’m sure they’ll end up in the back of my pantry, never to see the light of day again.
But I also know that senior food editor Andy Baraghani swears by dried mushrooms for everything from easy egg salads to complex-in-flavor/simple-in-execution broths. For him, they’re an unexpected and essential pantry staple. To dispel my (and your) fears once and for all, Baraghani explains what to look for when buying dried mushrooms and when and how to use them after you do. (Spoiler alert: It’s all easy.)
What should I buy?
According to Baraghani, you want to see the packaged mushrooms in their original states, not sliced or smashed, because they retain their flavor better that way. Whole porcinis and chanterelles can be hard to find, though, so go ahead and get the sliced ones if that’s your only choice.
How are dried mushrooms different from fresh?
The flavor of a dried mushroom is slightly more concentrated than the fresh kind. It’s what makes them spectacular for adding depth to broths, stews, and soups. Morels, on the other hand, can be dustier and grittier when dry. Baraghani recommends straining them through a cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh sieve, otherwise their dust may wind up in the broth.
Okay, so how can I use them?
Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and fill the bowl with hot water, then soak the dried mushrooms in that water until it comes to room temperature. This process helps leach as much mushroom flavor as possible. The traditional use for rehydrated porcini mushrooms is risotto, but Baraghani swears by dried shiitakes for almost anything. On a weeknight, he’ll add a few to stock or combine them with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and ginger, then add water or chicken stock and serve with ramen noodles. You can even finely grate them when they’re still dehydrated using a microplane, then serve them over egg salad.
Combining fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms adds an extra layer of flavor. Baraghani will brown fresh mushrooms in a pan, add rehydrated mushrooms to the pan, pour in some of the rehydrated mushrooms’ soaking liquid, and layer in a dollop of crème fraîche or a drizzle of cream. Smash that creamy mushroom mixture on toast and finish with grassy herbs like parsley and a generous squeeze of lemon.
How do I store my dried mushrooms (and when should I toss them?)
Baraghani says that dried mushrooms hold up best when they’ve been stored in a resealable plastic bag or, preferably, an airtight container. Keep them in a dark, dry place like the back of your cupboard or even your freezer. “As long as they’re kept dry, dried mushrooms can last indefinitely,” says Baraghani. Unless you find a bug in your bag (it happens!). In that case, you should probably throw them away.
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