Porcini Mushrooms: Bringing Sexy Back

Porcini Mushrooms: Bringing Sexy BackI know what you’re thinking, Porcini mushrooms? What’s so special? I’ve seen them before, maybe even cooked with them before. No big deal.”

Undoubtedly, you are referring to the most accessible, dried variety. Typically available in little plastic clamshells, this sad fungus is packed in with half a dozen other varieties. I say sad because to be honest, fresh mushrooms are just so awesome. Period. Now don’t get me wrong, I have used my fair share of dried mushrooms and still do on occasion. Plus, a dried, wild mushroom is better than no mushroom at all. For most of us home cooks, we don’t exactly have a forager at our beck and call, and as with any great sourced gastronomic product, the wait and hassle is well worth it.

Recently while at the Calabasas farmers market, I discovered Los Angeles Fun-gi. He had the most amazing treasure trove of wild, fresh mushrooms. More varieties than I have ever seen in one place, which is saying a lot for a food nerd like me.  Porcinis, shitakes, enoki, oyster, king trumpets, blue foot, and the list goes on and on.

Delicately hovering my fingers amongst the plump little gems, I was completely captivated by Mr. FUNgi who was philosophizing about his veritable cornucopia of assorted delicacies. All of his mushrooms are foraged and packed up in northern California, then he drives down south once a week to share his beautiful bounty. Prices aren’t cheap, but certainly not overpriced. By any standard, he has a superior product, and you’d be crazy not to take advantage. Fresh, wild mushrooms are extraordinary—something you should not be intimidated by, but simply try for fun in your own kitchen. These bad boys can be whipped up in less time than it takes Sandra to semi-make a semi-tasty dinner.

After considerable internal debate, porcini mushrooms were my final choice: beautiful, fat, little lovelies. Their flavor is complex, unusual, and foreign to most palettes. The sexy umami that is evoked from a quick sauté with a hit of vinegar is amazing.  Or try it raw, with its spongy, meaty, intriguing texture. Accented beautifully with a good olive oil, and some herbs, raw porcini mushrooms are divine. Exploration is really the name of the game here.

Wild mushrooms in any variety are delightful and fun. Historically, porcini mushrooms are regarded as a kind of poor man’s truffle due to their semblance in terms of umami. They pair beautifully with duck, quail, and even bigger gamier meats, such as hare, venison, and beef.  Next time you find yourself at the farmers market, buy your standard go-to greens, summer fruits, and flowers, but also make a stop at the fungi stand. Enjoy the beauty of all nature’s little creations, and pick any basket that strikes your fancy. One rule: just keep it simple. Wild mushrooms can be delicate in flavor, so try your best to evoke the subtle earthy flavor out of them without going overboard.

Here are two variations I created at home. In literally less than 20 minutes, start to finish including clean up and eating! Have fun experimenting and tasting while cooking. You never know since happy accidents are often the best teachings.
Cook on, good friends.

 

Porcini Carpaccio With Kale and Currants

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dinosaur kale (often labeled lacinato kale), chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Olive oil
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
  • 3 to 4 fresh porcini mushrooms, gently wiped with a damp cloth and bottoms trimmed delicately with a paring knife
  • 4 to 5 small radishes, washed and stems trimmed
  • 4 to 5 small branches red currants (if you can’t find them, try fresh cherries, pickled in a solution of 1:2 sugar and rice vinegar, plus a pinch of salt. Boil all together for 5 minutes, transfer to an ice-filled zip top bag for an hour, then use.)
  • 2 fresh thyme branches, stripped of leaves
  • Small handful of chives (scant 2 tablespoons) minced
  • A pinch smoked sea salt

Directions:

  1. Thinly slice mushrooms and radish on a mandolin at the thinnest setting.
  2. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium hot heat. Quickly sauté kale and garlic for about a minute, or until it starts to color and to become aromatic and toasty. Season with salt.
  3. Arrange kale on a plate, layer 5 to 6 slices of the porcinis, and sprinkle around the chives, thyme, and radish. Liberally drizzle with a high-quality, fruity olive oil and a high-quality, aged balsamic vinegar. Add a couple small branches of fresh red currants (or pickled cherries). Sprinkle with smoked sea salt and serve.

 

Sautéed Porcini With Garlic and Soy

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dinosaur kale (often labeled lacinato kale), chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 to 4 fresh porcini mushrooms, gently wiped with a damp cloth and bottoms trimmed delicately with a paring knife, then sliced lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes, or more if you like a bit more spice
  • ½ teaspoon fish sauce
  • 4 to 5 small radishes, washed and stems trimmed
  • Small handful of chives (scant 2 tablespoons), minced
  • A pinch of smoked sea salt

Directions:

  1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add olive oil. When you see wisps of smoke, add mushrooms, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Let it sizzle.
  2. Add the kale and sauté 1 to 2 minutes, or until you start to see the beautiful caramelization. Add soy sauce, mirin, chili flakes, and fish sauce.
  3. Plate in a wide bowl. Finish with a sprinkle of smoked sea salt, and some chives and thinly sliced radish. Serve immediately.

Both dishes make approximately two servings. Add some grilled meat or turn the mushrooms into a sauce for pasta to make a killer main course.