dried mushrooms, cream and flavor

Mushrooms always come in large batches. You may walk the woods daily, and there’s literally nothing out there, for weeks. But a few days of rain and a bit of sunshine at the right moment, and the porcinis pop out of the ground like, well, mushrooms. All of a sudden a casual half-hour walk leads to a most intimidating pile on the kitchen table, waiting to be cleaned and dealt with. It’s even worse with their lesser cousins, the redcaps that grow under birches. These not-so-little guys usually grow all at once, and there are lots of them around.

A quick manner of working through such a pile is to clean the mushrooms, slice them in quarter-inch thick slices, distribute them loosely on a rack and to put them in a warm place with some air circulation. They will be dry within a few days. Then they can be stored in a closed container for years, or ground into a powder.

So now we have a container full of dried porcini slices (non-Swedes buy them in a grocery store, they’re just as good) and a jar with mushroom powder and what now?

The best way is to use them in a risotto, of course. But usually, the idea to turn a dish or a sauce into Dish Or Sauce Alla Boscaiola (woodman’s dish or sauce) comes when everything is already bubbling. Adding mushroom powder or hastily soaked dried mushrooms to a half-cooked meal is most of the time quite disappointing. For some funny reason, they tend to attach themselves to the wrong flavors: the sourness of tomato or wine, for example. Swoosh – all their own flavor gone.

While my mushrooms are soaking, I heat up a bit of butter in a skillet, perhaps together with a teaspoon of chopped shallots. Then I squeeze out the mushroom bits, add them to the butter, sautĂ© them for a while, add the soaking water and reduce it. At the end, ideally, I add some cream and reduce this sauce a bit more. If I have no cream at home, that’s okay too. Then mushrooms and sauce are poured into whatever is cooking: a pasta sauce with tomatoes, a beef stew with juniper and bay leaves, a pan full of chicken bits in wine sauce, whatever. For mushroom powder the same applies: it develops much more flavor if it is added to things buttery or creamy. Later, this buttery, creamy, mushroomy component can easily be added to another dish.

My latest acquisition of dried mushrooms was a bag of yellow foot chanterelles (the mushroom page of the cook’s thesaurus calls them also winter chanterelles). That was a lazy little thing to do, to actually buy that bag. They grow in complete abundance just a few steps into the woods behind the door. To my excuse I should mention that they usually show themselves well-timed with the beginning of moose season. Ah, the moose shooting! The parking lot of the tool factory in the next village, one kilometer to the east, stays empty in moose season. Everyone is out there, trying to get the last stray mushroom lover. That’s why I bought these yellow foot chanterelles in a bag. Better them than me.

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