Tony writes: After a month or so of doing this thing here at Cook Angel, I’ve learned that a glut of food problems are actually initiated by a well-intentioned gift. The gift itself, as is the case with these lovely dried mushrooms I’ve been receiving from my Dad each month since my birthday last August, isn’t to blame (I love them, Dad, really I do). Rather, it’s often just the sheer abundance of a food gift that can push it from pleasant surprise to worrisome what-do-I-do-with-all-this-stuff-? status. These birthday mushrooms are a perfect example. Shortly after it arrived, I excitedly turned the first package (dried chanterelles) into a cream sauce with fresh chives and sherry. For the last 8 months, though, I’ve watched each 1-oz bag of dried hens of the woods, pheasantback, and lobster mushrooms come in, go straight to the cupboard, and not leave there. It’s gotten to the point that there’s little room for the polenta and pasta in my dried goods cabinet. It’s time to act. Even though I wrote a whole article on dried mushrooms for Fine Cooking a while back, this past weekend I had to sit down for a moment, get my fungal bearings, and remember all the cool ways to use dried mushrooms and, of course, to show Dad I’m grateful for the gift.
Dried Mushroom Powder: One of my favorite food finds a couple of years back was porcini powder. All it is are ground-up dried porcinis. But the powder form allows you to sprinkle it into pastas, sauces, stews, or braises the way you might Parmigiano, to impart a little umami richness. To make this powder, just add chopped dried mushrooms to a spice (or coffee) grinder and pulse until fine; it’s ok to mix different varieties together. Then add 1 to 2 tsp. of this mushroom powder to a cream sauce for sauteed steak, stir into buttered noodles, add to a chicken and mushroom stew, and so on. This mushroom powder will hold indefinitely in an air-tight container in the pantry.
How to rehydrate dried mushrooms: For each of the next set of ideas, you will need to know how to do this. It’s easy. Add 1 cup boiling water to a good handful of dried mushrooms (about 1/2 oz.), top with something to weigh down the mushrooms so they’re completely submerged in the water (this could be another bowl, a kitchen spoon, whatever works), and let sit for about 10 minutes so they soften and become tender. Transfer the mushrooms to a cutting board to chop if you like and strain the mushroom soaking liquid – which is quite flavorful – with a coffee filter or paper towels to remove any sediment, dirt, grit, etc… Then use this strained broth as you might chicken broth in a sauce or stew.
Dried Mushrooms Duxelle: This is just a fancy French word for a sauteed mushroom paste. Generally fresh mushrooms are the thing, though you can set rehydrated dried mushrooms in a food processor and pulse to chop. Saute with butter, some garlic, and chopped fresh herbs (whatever you got and whatever you like with mushrooms) and then use this intense paste like a liquid form of the mushroom powder above: to a beef stew, to a sauce for sauteed cod, as a filling for homemade ravioli. Freeze this paste in zip-top bags for up to a couple of months or hold in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Sauces: I generally follow a basic pattern when making some sort of sauce with dried mushrooms: sear meat, reserve it on a plate, add rehydrated mushrooms to the pan, saute until browned and fragrant (2 minutes or so), and then simmer with the mushroom broth, cream, wine, or whatnot. Puree to refine the mixture a bit and then spoon over sauteed halibut or beef tenderloin or seared scallops or pork chops.
Soups, Stews, Braises: As opposed to sauces where I prefer to sear the rehydrated mushrooms alone (to intensify their flavor a bit), in these sorts of preparations (where they generally don’t need to be the star), I don’t find it as important. You can add the mushrooms at the same time as you saute aromatics (onions, carrots, celery) or just simmer them with the broth.
Pairings: The only real rule to follow with all of these preparations is to pair the mushrooms appropriately with whatever other ingredients are in the dish. Match assertive porcini and chanterelles with other full-flavored ingredients – hearty cuts of beef, dark meat chicken, potatoes. Shiitakes and oyster mushrooms are more mild and versatile and go well with most anything that you’d add mushrooms. I don’t generally pair dried mushrooms with other vegetables unless they are slow-cooked braise-y sorts of dishes.