So many people who come to the CooksPlayground for Team Building look at the dried mushrooms we use in some of the dishes with shock and horror and they are very reluctant to cook with them. The reason for this is that they don’t know how to treat them before they go into the pot.
For instance, the Chinese dried mushrooms, called dried shiitake mushrooms, get touched and sniffed and tapped onto a hard surface, and the chefs for a day don’t have any idea how wonderful they are used in Asian dishes. They have an intense meaty flavour that enhances the flavour of soups, stir-fries, omelettes and braised dishes. Once these mushrooms are rehydrated and cooked the flavour is wonderfully intense – even better than a fresh one, sometimes.
This is how you rehydrate Chinese Mushrooms (Shiitake):
Place the desired amount of dried mushrooms in a bowl large enough to hold them with space for them to grow to at least twice their size. Now fill the bowl with enough warm water to cover them.
At this point they will be bobbing up to the surface, so keep them down by placing either a side plate or the lid of a pot over them.
Let them soak in the warm water for about 30 – 45 minutes, until they have softened. (Larger, thicker ones might take a little more time than smaller, thinner ones.)
I personally prefer to soak them in cold water, because less of their flavour leeches out into the water, so I soak them for about three hours before I need to use them.
Once the mushrooms have softened they are ready to use. Now squeeze the excess water out of them and remove the tough woody stems by cutting them off.
Thinly slice the mushrooms and use them in the desired dish.
The soaking liquid from the mushrooms has lots of flavour, so strain it though a fine nylon sieve or muslin cloth and use it to add to your soup or stir fry, or freeze it to use as stock with the stems in vegetarian dishes.
Most Italians I know have their own secret little patch that they go to, to forage for mushrooms when the time is right. The ones I know always pick more than they are going to eat, because they are going to preserve them till later in the year.
This is how they do it.
They clean the mushrooms with a little firm bristled brush. As with all fresh mushrooms rather brush the dirt off them and don’t wash them – they are like sponges and will get all water-logged and slimy.
Arrange your sliced mushrooms on metal baking sheets in a single layer, and then dry them in a pre-heated 150 degrees C oven for 60 minutes, then remove them from the oven and turn them over,
Now blot the mushrooms by pressing down on them with paper towels to absorb any excess liquid. Return them to the oven for another 60 minutes.
If they are not fully dried, turn them and blot them and cook for a further 20-30 minutes, or until they are dried. Once they are dried, remove them from the oven and let them cool, and then store them. It is important to store them in air-tight containers in a cool, dry, dark place.
You now have beautifully preserved dried mushrooms that will keep for years if you store them properly.
A point to ponder is that dried mushrooms have a more concentrated flavour than fresh ones, so use sparingly, or if you are like me, ignore that.
I love that concentrated mushroom flavour in a risotto dish. Reconstitute them by adding some boiling water or stock to them and let them swell and plump up before you want to use them. Keep that liquid now – don’t throw it away. It is full of flavour, so use it in the dish, ok!