Joan asked Lauren:
Hi, Lauren. I loved your salmon marinade recipe. But that’s not why I’m writing. I noticed in today’s column that you suggested buying dried porcinis at Costco. We used to get them there, but they haven’t stocked them in a long time — maybe even a year. I’ve asked several times and all they’ve come up with are the shitakes. If you see them there, let me know and I’ll race over. My husband uses them all the time. A quick second question: Can you eat dried mushrooms after reconstituting, without cooking them further? Also, since I often see sliced raw mushrooms being served on salads, in restaurants, I was wondering about safety. I remember reading, years ago, that it’s best to cook mushrooms before eating. Your thoughts? Thanks!
About dried mushrooms “not” found at Costco: I’m so sorry to hear, Joan, that Costco seems to be falling down on the job! I bought two large canisters of dried porcinis there last year and I’m still using them. I just assumed that Costco still sold them. Dried mushrooms are available in all specialty food shops and even at some well-stocked supermarkets. They’re sold sliced or broken in smallish cellophane pouches, so look for those with the largest mushrooms (slices are preferable to irregular pieces). And, by the way, you can use the dried shitakes instead of the porcinis, but their liquid will have a different and less intense flavor. Try it, though, you might just love it! …
Can reconstituted dried mushrooms be eaten without further cooking? Yes, dried mushrooms can be used “as is” once reconstituted and without further cooking. However, since the texture of dried mushrooms, once reconstituted, is quite lifeless and since it’s the liquid left after making them supple that has the “real goods” in the flavor department, it’s best to combine reconstituted dried mushrooms with some cooked fresh ones. This goes for all dried mushrooms. By the way, another great thing to do with dried mushrooms is to grind some up in a spice grinder, pour a small amount of boiling water on top, just to make a loose pasty consistency and then incorporate them in your bread dough, pasta dough, sauces for rice and stews, etc. This adds an earthy dimension to dishes that’s hard to fully describe, other than to say that it’s truly delicious.
Are fresh mushrooms safe to eat, when uncooked? Although fresh mushrooms may be eaten raw, it’s best not to make a habit of it. Raw mushrooms contain small levels of toxins (called hydrazines), which are a natural protective substance produced in fungi to deter predators. Fortunately, most of these toxins are destroyed during cooking or after drying. To cook fresh mushrooms properly so they become golden and savory, they should be sautéed over intense heat in either hot olive oil or butter (full or clarified). Remove from heat after all their exuded juices have evaporated and the mushrooms turn golden and give off a very savory aroma. Whole mushrooms, with their stems removed, make wonderful containers for savory fillings for an appetizer or first course. Or they can be sliced, chopped or quartered and sautéed with garlic and fresh herbs to add to sauces, soups, rice, stews, omelets, soufflés or to top crisp hot garlic toasts. Again, the list goes on. Since we’re still on the subject of mushrooms, try my fabulous Savory Mushroom Spread that uses them fresh and perfectly cooked (it’s a family favorite; it looks a lot like chopped liver… but it’s not)!