Dried mushrooms are an umami powerhouse. Here’s how to use them
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By Becky Krystal
Dried foods are some of the most useful items to keep in your pantry.
Mushrooms in either form, dried or fresh, are naturally high in glutamates, a family of chemicals primarily responsible for creating the umami sensation. That sensation, often described as the fifth taste, is what can lend savoury richness to a wide variety of foods. Dried mushrooms make it particularly easy to amplify that when cooking.
Here are some tips and ideas for making the most of them.
“Not all mushrooms dry equally,” says journalist Eugenia Bone, author of “Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms” and the editor of the forthcoming “Fantastic Fungi Community Cookbook”. Among her top picks are morels, boletes, wood ear and black trumpets. Candy caps are another unique variety, boasting a maple fragrance that lends itself to dessert recipes.
Bone also highly recommends dried shiitakes, a sentiment shared by cooking instructor Becky Selengut, author of “Shroom”. Selengut says shiitakes are even better in dried form than fresh. “You can’t say that about a lot of mushrooms,” she says. Shiitakes happen to be one of the most accessible varieties, as you can often find them in the grocery store. Dried porcini are fairly common as well.
Selengut and Bone agree on one variety to avoid: chanterelles. Selengut says they don’t rehydrate particularly well and can remain rubbery on the inside.
Buying and storing
Pay attention to the dried mushrooms you buy. Bone suggests looking for a date on the package to ascertain freshness. Selengut advises staying away from mushrooms that have been broken into pieces or crushed into powder. Less scrupulous sellers may dry mushrooms that couldn’t be sold fresh, so be on the lookout for ones that may have holes from being worm-ridden.
Keep dried mushrooms for 6 to 12 months in the pantry, in an airtight container or package. That will help keep them dry and potentially prevent an infestation of pantry moths if you happen to get a contaminated batch.
Freshness and insects are two reasons Selengut prefers refrigerator or freezer storage, especially for longer periods of time. That will also stave off mould if the mushrooms have not been completely dried.
In most instances, you’re going to want to rehydrate dried mushrooms. While boiling water is a common tactic, Bone says you can rehydrate in any liquid you want, including those called for in a recipe (milk, cream, broth, etc.).
Cultivated mushrooms tend to be fairly clean, but it’s never a bad idea to strain the liquid after hydrating to remove any grit. That step is even more essential with wild mushrooms. Selengut endorses using a French press, which helps keep the mushrooms submerged, since they have a tendency to bob to the top. Plus, the fine-mesh screen is great for separating out the grit. Just be sure to scoop the mushrooms off the top of the water before pushing the plunger back down to strain the liquid.
No French press? No worries. I’ve had success using nesting bowls so that the top bowl helps keep the mushrooms submerged. Bone recommends using cheesecloth or a jam bag to strain the liquid, since even a fine-mesh strainer might let too much grit through.
Another option is creating your own dried mushroom powder, in which case you can skip rehydrating. You can find plenty of powders for sale, but doing it yourself is more economical and gives you control over the amount and type of mushrooms you use. Simply put the dried mushrooms in a spice (or coffee) grinder and process until transformed into a fine powder. At that point, you shouldn’t notice any grit, Selengut says, if the mushrooms had any to begin with.
If you’re wondering whether you can substitute dried mushrooms for fresh, the answer is yes. Bone says plan on rehydrating about 3 ounces (85 grams) of dried mushrooms for every pound (about 0.453kg) of fresh mushrooms. Regardless of whether you’re swapping dried for fresh, you can double the flavour impact by using the mushroom soaking liquid in the finished dish.
If for some reason you don’t need the liquid for that particular dish, stash it in the fridge or freezer to use in stoups, stews, sauces or pasta boiling water.
Selengut says dried mushrooms do best in longer-cooked dishes, though it's not a hard-and-fast rule. Still, even rehydrated, they can remain rubbery in quicker-cooking situations, such as stir-fries. Instead, think about soups, stews and braises. Selengut uses rehydrated and seared rings of morels with orecchiette pasta, sauteed leeks, Parmesan and oven-roasted tomatoes. “I love using caramelised rehydrated shiitakes in a Vietnamese rice noodle bowl with lots of fresh herbs and peanuts with a lime-fish sauce dressing,” she says.
Mushroom powder is easy to work into many types of dishes. Bone recommends sprinkling mushrooms over onions as they caramelise, which will take your standard onion dip to a whole new level. A tuna steak recipe from “Fantastic Fungi” first has the fish take a dip in soy sauce before getting dusted in morel powder, after which it's seared. You can take the same approach with beef.