Culinary Arts

What Are Porcini Mushrooms? A Guide to Buying and Using Porcini Mushrooms

Written by MasterClass

Jun 24, 2019 • 4 min read

Mushrooms are beloved for prompting our palate to taste the sixth flavor, called “umami,” which can also be found in soy sauce and parmesan cheese. Porcini mushrooms, in particular, are a cult favorite in the culinary arts for their rich flavor and numerous health benefits.

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What are Porcini Mushrooms?

Boletus edulis–known as porcini, cep, Steinpilz, or penny bun mushrooms–is an edible mushroom that can be found fresh or dried. Porcini mushrooms are utilized for their earthy, meaty flavor in recipes for Italian pasta and rice dishes, soups and sauces, and savory specialties like risotto.

Where Do Porcinis Grow?

In the wild, porcini mushrooms grow in small clusters near trees in forests and can be found in the Northern Hemisphere across parts of Europe (particularly Italy), Asia, and North America.

What Are the Characteristics of Porcini Mushrooms?

Porcini mushrooms have a nutty, earthy taste. They can vary in size, shape, and color, but generally, the top forms an umbrella over the stout stem. Porcini mushrooms have:

  • Tan to dark brown rounded cap
  • Cream colored cylindrical stem
  • Firm, solid white under cap
  • Wide base which thins toward the top
  • Half moon shape when sliced

How Do You Select Good Porcini Mushrooms?

Fresh porcini mushrooms are in season during the summer and fall. They grow in the soil around trees, particular beech, birch, pine, chestnut, hemlock, and spruce trees. If you prefer to buy porcini mushrooms rather than hunt for your own, you can find them fresh, dried, frozen, or canned at the grocery store or farmers market.

Fresh porcinis are sometimes hard to find, so freeze your stash when you get ahold of them, or you can stock up on dried porcini.

When selecting fresh porcini mushrooms, look for these characteristics:

  • Large, thick caps that are firm, undamaged, and brown in color
  • Pale color under cap
  • No black spots, which can indicate they’re overripe
  • No small holes, which can indicate worms

When selecting dried porcini mushrooms, look for these qualities:

  • Reddish-brown caps
  • Whole mushroom pieces, not crumbled
  • Stored in an airtight bag or container
  • Strong smell, which can often come through the packaging

How Do You Prep Porcini Mushrooms?

All fresh mushrooms should be thoroughly cleaned before eating. You can scrub the cap and stem or use a vegetable peeler to carefully scrape off a thin layer. Dried porcini mushrooms should be soaked in water for about 30 minutes to bring back their moisture.

How Do You Use Porcini Mushrooms in Cooking?

Porcini mushrooms add a hearty, woodsy flavor to just about any dish. Fresh mushrooms lose moisture when cooking, so be mindful of the recipe’s order of ingredients and lower the heat as needed to keep them from sweating or browning.

Dried porcini mushrooms must be soaked in water for 20 to 30 minutes before cooking or incorporated into a recipe with a slow liquid simmer.

Porcini mushrooms enhance the flavor of a variety of dishes, including:

  • Meat. Beef dishes like Stracotto (pot roast) or Beef Wellington are excellent for cooking with porcini mushrooms. The cooking time is typically slower than other meats, so the mushrooms have time to release their rich, nutty flavor when chopped and added to the broth.
  • Sauce. The earthy flavor of porcini mushrooms enhances tomato sauce and French classics, like béchamel or white sauce. Chop them and give them a quick sauté, and then let them simmer in the sauce to release their earthy flavor.
  • Broth. Porcini mushrooms are intense enough to carry the weight of a full-bodied stock when simmered along with onions, celery, carrots, and herbs. Chop them and let them simmer in the broth to release their hearty flavor. Once the broth is complete, remove the porcinis and reserve them for cooking.
  • Eggs. Omelets pair well with sliced, sautéed mushrooms. Porcini mushrooms also go well with the runny yolk of a poached egg, which acts as a creamy seal over a smooth mushroom.
  • Pasta. The notable flavor of porcini mushrooms can stand alone in a simple pasta dish or play nice with additional ingredients like chicken or spinach. Chop and sauté the mushrooms, then set them aside until the rest of the dish is cooked and you’re ready to plate.
  • Vegetarian dishes. Sauté porcini mushrooms with vegetables like shallots and sun-dried tomatoes to impart a savory saltiness to your dish.

For even more flavor, chop and sautée porcini mushrooms in fat like duck or goose or high-quality extra virgin olive oil to allow the mushrooms to soak in the natural flavor before cooking.

Is There a Difference Between Dry and Fresh Porcini Mushrooms When Cooking?

Overall, dried porcini mushrooms have a more concentrated and more pronounced flavor than fresh porcini mushrooms. If you substitute fresh porcini mushrooms for dry ones, you lose a significant amount of flavor.

5 Health Benefits of Porcini Mushrooms

Eating porcini mushrooms can be beneficial for your overall health. They contain nutritional values that can aid in a healthy diet, including:

  1. Fiber for gut health
  2. Antioxidants for immunity
  3. Protein for muscle mass
  4. Iron for essential minerals
  5. No cholesterol, trans fat, or saturated fat

How to Substitute Porcini Mushrooms

Porcini mushrooms can be expensive and sometimes difficult to find depending on the season or where you live.

  • King trumpet mushrooms are a good substitute as they’re similar to porcinis in size and texture.
  • Shiitake mushrooms are comparable in taste–though it is more subdued–and are overall thinner than porcinis.
  • Dried mushrooms of other varieties, such as portobellos, can be swapped in for porcini mushrooms if you properly compensate for any lack of flavor.

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