Cleaning, cooking, and preserving your mushrooms
Once the hunting is over it is time for the real work to begin, but where do you start? While everyone seems to have their own way of handling the mushrooms, the information below provides you with some general ideas and rudimentary processes that can work in anyone's kitchen. These tips are a compilation of ideas and methodologies from a variety of sources including club members, websites, and books. We hope that it is helpful to you. If you have any ideas of your own be sure to pass them on to our webmaster for possible inclusion on this page.
Before getting down to business remember, mushrooms can be stored in the refrigerator for only a few days at the most. Therefore, beginning the business of cleaning and processing your mushrooms cannot wait too long. Some recommend that you place a dampened towel over your mushrooms when storing them in the refrigerator or other cool place. It seems to prevent them from drying out too much before processing.
Let’s face it, mushrooms can be dirty… especially after a good rain. While we love the flavor of wild mushrooms, few of us like to eat dirt and bugs along with them, at least if we can avoid it. So, the question is what is the best way to clean them? Well, there really is no best way; there is only that way in which you are most comfortable.
Some people believe that you should never put your mushrooms under or into water to remove debris and bugs because it will reduce the mushroom’s flavor. Others believe that the bugs or even the soil found on or in the mushrooms can affect flavor, palatability, and a person’s health. You will have to make up your own mind regarding such things but it is a good rule of thumb to use as little water as possible when cleaning your mushrooms.
You will want a few tools handy as you begin to clean your mushrooms. A paring knife, mushroom brush (available at culinary stores) or a soft bristle toothbrush and a few tea towels or other kitchen towels will get you started.
Use a paring knife to cut away or scrape off larger soil contamination and leaves. You can remove finer soil particles with a nylon mushroom brush or a soft bristle toothbrush. Use a damp cloth to wipe the dirt from firm mushrooms, like some of the chanterelles, that are in good condition. If you must incorporate the use of water, try running cool water over the mushrooms, while delicately brushing away debris. A paring knife should also be used to cut away bad portions of the mushrooms, unusable stems and to scrape off debris found in the crevices of some mushrooms. Mushrooms like Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) and Hedgehog (Hydnum rypandum) often contain areas that are quite dirty and a paring knife is almost a necessity.
Wild mushrooms can be buggy. To remove bugs from the mushrooms, most people will soak the mushrooms in salt water for a few minutes in an attempt to draw the bugs out of them. This works well but remember that salt will also draw out moisture and the water can dilute flavor, therefore, avoid keeping the mushrooms in the salt water for an extended period of time.
We will not talk about individual recipes here but you can find some of those on other parts of our website. As a rule of thumb, NEVER eat a wild mushroom raw. Yes, there can be exceptions to that rule but why risk it? Mushrooms taste better, are easier to digest and provide more nutrition when cooked... so cook them first!
While it seems as though everyone has their own subtle way to cook each mushroom variety a few things tend to hold true. Cooking mushrooms in unsalted butter enhances the flavor of many mushrooms. Some people recommend avoiding the use of olive oil or other pungent oils for cooking mushrooms. These oils can overpower the delicate flavor and aroma of some wild mushrooms. So, if you use an oil to cook your mushrooms, try using canola or safflower oil. As with some other foods, adding a touch of lemon juice may help some mushrooms maintain their color while adding to their flavor. Speaking of flavor, salt also adds to the flavor of the mushrooms but for a variety of reasons, add it as you finish the cooking process. Unless you are dealing with a lot of small mushrooms you will likely want to slice your mushrooms into smaller pieces, both to fit into the pan and to make cooking go a little faster. For a more even cook, try to slice your mushrooms in uniform thicknesses.
Some mushroom varieties need to be boiled and the residual water discarded before being used in any recipe or eaten at all. One such mushroom is the Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea). You should also boil some varieties of Helvella mushrooms to remove potential toxins.
Beginning with clean mushrooms will save you time when you use them for cooking. As with cooking it will often help to cut the mushrooms into bite sized pieces or slices prior to preserving them. There are a number of ways to preserve mushrooms which includes drying, freezing, pickling, salting, powdering, and a few more. We'll concentrate on the five ways listed here. Let's start with drying mushrooms.
Drying - If needed, remove any stalks or other tough parts and slice remaining pieces thin. Uniformity is not necessary but it does help. If you are using a dehydrator, place the slices on your racks and follow the manufacturer's instructions. You can dehydrate with your oven by placing the mushrooms on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Set the oven's temperature to 150o, keep the door ajar and dry the mushrooms thoroughly. Some mushrooms can be dried by threading them with a needle and thread and then hanging them up to dry; a lot of people have done this with morels.
The key to drying is that you remove ALL moisture to avoid spoilage. Once dried the mushrooms can be placed in airtight containers and set into a dark place to avoid mold growing and spoiling them. If you are unsure as to whether or not the moisture is removed, store the containers in a freezer.
Note: To reconstitute dried mushrooms you need to soak them in warm water for about 20 minutes. Do not use boiling water as this has a tendency to make the mushrooms a bit tough. The water that is leftover from the soaking process can be used to flavor the dish or saved for soup.
Freezing - Some mushrooms can be frozen whole and all of them can be frozen after a short sauté. To freeze mushrooms whole it is recommended that you first drop the mushroom into a pot of boiling water for about one minute. Remove the mushroom from the water and then drain well. Place the mushrooms on cookie sheets and then place the cookie sheet into a freezer for about 30 - 40 minutes or until the mushrooms are frozen. Remove the mushrooms and transfer them to labeled bags. Blewits, Black Trumpets, Chanterelles, Hedgehogs, Hericium species, and closed (cap is unopened) Agaricus can hold up well to this method of preserving.
If you are going to sauté the mushrooms first, begin by slicing them to your desired size and placing them in a skillet on low to medium heat. Add enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan and prevent the mushrooms from sticking. As the mushrooms begin to cook cover the skillet and allow the water to be drawn out of the mushrooms. Keep covered for a few minutes and stir occasionally. Remove the cover and allow the water to cook away. Remove from heat, cool and then place them in storage containers, about one cup per container, and freeze for later use. Just about any mushroom can be preserved in this manner and used to flavor soups, sauces, stuffings, or, with further cooking, eaten as a separate dish.
Salting - Preserving mushrooms in this way goes back many years and while not a real popular method throughout the U.S. is still used in many other countries. You will need to use a ratio of 3 parts salt to 1 part mushrooms for this process. (ex. 1 pound of mushrooms will require 3 pounds of salt.) Begin by cleaning the mushrooms thoroughly and slicing them rather thick. Using a covered glass jar, pour in a layer of sea salt, now add a layer of mushrooms, pour salt over the mushrooms until covered and then add another layer of mushrooms. Continue this process until the jar is full, then cover. After several hours you will see the volume of mushrooms has diminished and that you can add more mushrooms and salt to the jar. Continue until full and then store in a cool location.
Mushrooms preserved in this manner will need to be rinsed and soaked in cold water before being used for cooking. These mushrooms work well with meat dishes. Try this method with Hedgehog, Blewits, Russula, Lactarius species, or Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) mushrooms.
Powdering - Thoroughly dried mushrooms can be turned into a powder and used to flavor stews, soups, and other dishes. Simply place your dried mushrooms in a coffee grinder and grind them to a fine powder. Place the powder in a well sealed jar and store in a cool place. Powdered mushrooms can have a very intense flavor so you may want to use the powder a bit sparingly. You will have to experiment with its use over a period of time.
Some of the more common mushrooms used for this sort of preservation are Boletes, Puffballs, and Agaricus.
Pickling - Mushrooms can be pickled using a standard pickling brine and pickling techniques. If you know how to pickle cucumber you know how to pickle mushrooms. Some people dress up their pickling brine by adding flavored vinegar, chilies, or spices to complement the mushroom's flavor. You can find some pickled mushroom suggestions by clicking here.
Packed in Oil - Here is another process in which you use oil as a principal means of preserving the mushrooms. First, combine one cup of wine vinegar with 2/3 cup of water and simmer. Add in a few spices like salt, thyme, bay leaf, and so forth and then cook for about 15 - 20 minutes. Add in the mushrooms (cleaned and sliced) and simmer for another 10 minutes. Drain the mushrooms well and allow them to dry. Place the mushrooms in a sterilized canning jar and cover with olive oil. Seal the jar and place in a dark, cool, location. This process will allow you to preserve about one pound of wild mushrooms and the oil will take on the delicate flavor of the mushrooms. You may want to try using the oil in salad dressing.