Drying mushrooms is an easy way to “upcycle” your produce. While most foods lose flavor or texture after dehydration, mushrooms improve.
Mushrooms have been eaten since ancient times and have been preserved as a means of nutrition over the winter. As civilizations discovered what is poisonous and what is food, preservation methods kept them good (and tastier) through the winter.
Reasons for Drying Mushrooms
For millennia, drying mushrooms has been the primary way of preserving them to harness the nutrients for the winter. A dried mushroom can last years within a cool, airtight environment. By drying mushrooms at the peak of their season, chefs take advantage of a harvest, store the bounty in a compact and lightweight manner, and use it at their discretion.
Drying mushrooms intensifies their flavor and improves the texture. Many would-be fans enjoy the umami taste but cannot tolerate the slimy moisture of fresh mushrooms. Dried and hydrated mushrooms are meatier than fresh versions cooked the same way.
It also saves a lot of money. Morel hunters collect more than they can consume in a few sittings, so drying mushrooms keeps their valuable harvests good all season. Often mushrooms go on sale at the grocery store, from crimini to shiitake or oyster. Buying in bulk then dehydrating lets you take advantage of the price long after the sale is over.
Dehydrated mushrooms help bulk up a nutritious supply of food storage. Add them to dehydrated food recipes such as soups or pastas.
The Right Kinds of Drying Mushrooms
Some varieties are wild while others are plentiful in your local produce department. Several are only available pre-dried and imported. And, best of all, some can be cultivated at home with the right materials and a mushroom growing guide.
Chanterelle: The most easily recognized mushrooms, chanterelles are found within mossy forests throughout the world. Yellow chanterelles are hunted and harvested in the fall then dried. Rich in flavor and slightly fruity, they have been described as one of the best and most important edible mushrooms. Try this lightly flavored mushroom with cream sauces.
Morel: Prized in France and throughout the United States, this honeycomb-shaped mushroom has several species which live in deciduous and coniferous forests. Within the Ozarks they are known as Molly Moochers or hickory chickens and provide a seasonal bounty for rural mushroom hunters. Both dried and fresh morels are costly, so the least expensive way to obtain them is to hunt for them yourself. Never eat morels raw; cooking removes hydrazine toxins. And educate yourself before you go hunting morels so you don’t accidentally pick deadly false morels instead. Always wash and soak morels because grit can hide inside the honeycomb.
Oyster: First cultivated in Germany to ward off starvation, they are now an important commercial crop. They are picked young, before the anise-like bitterness can become unpleasantly acrid. Oyster mushrooms are often dried then processed into sauce for Asian cuisine.
Porcini: Described as nutty, meaty, and creamy, porcinis grow in forests within the Northern Hemisphere. They are harvested while young and sold to fine restaurants and chefs. Porcini can be frozen, though quality deteriorates quickly after the first few months. Porcini mushrooms are excellent with chicken or pork.
Portobello, white, and crimini: The same species, these mushrooms are identified by color mutations. When they are immature and white, they are known as common mushrooms, white mushrooms, button mushrooms, or table mushrooms. Immature and brown versions of the species can be called crimini, Italian mushrooms, brown mushrooms, baby portobellos or portabellini. Mature and brown versions are portobellos. Agaricus bisporus are by far the most widely cultivated variety.
Shiitake: Widely cultivated in Asia as a medicinal food, these mushrooms are more commonly sun-dried than eaten fresh because drying brings out the umami flavor. Meaty and smoky in flavor, they are sold as preserved food then hydrated in warm water prior to serving. Caps are used more often than the tough stems.
Three Ways to Dehydrate
Always identify the type of mushroom you have, especially if you’ve collected wild mushrooms. Be aware that circulating air can blow spores into the room, irritating people with allergies. And record whether you have varieties that can be eaten raw after hydrating or must then be cooked.
Before drying mushrooms, wash them. Soaking may cause them to waterlog, which prolongs dehydration or makes it impossible. Before you wash, try simply brushing dirt away or wiping with a damp cloth. If the soil is too embedded in the gills, rinse lightly and pat dry. Slice larger mushrooms to allow them to dry faster.
Two factors are necessary for drying mushrooms; heat, and circulating air.
Dry mushrooms traditionally by stringing onto a length of twine. Hang up high, where temperatures are warmest and dry. Or place mushrooms in an airy basket or wicker bamboo steamer. Keep the basket in a warm and dry location such as within a furnace room or on a windowsill. Drying mushrooms naturally takes more time but doesn’t require energy expenditure. Be sure the environment isn’t humid or the mushrooms will rot instead of dry. Adding a box fan to the environment keeps air circulating. If they are still rubbery after a few days, finish drying mushrooms in the oven or a dehydrator.
Oven drying: Lay mushrooms in a single layer on a baking sheet. Do not oil or grease the sheet. Use the lowest setting, keeping below 150°F, since heat can destroy nutritious compounds. Dry for two to three hours at until the mushrooms are crisp and brittle. Remember that, the more mushrooms you pile onto the sheet, the longer they will take to dry.
The very best method of drying mushrooms is within a food dehydrator. A multi-rack dehydrator can allow you to preserve the entire mushroom sale within a day or two. Slice large mushrooms. Use a low setting such as 110 to 135. Let them run overnight. Thinner slices will become brittle within four to six hours but thicker pieces may take eight or more.
Dried mushrooms should be brittle and snap easily, with no moisture within. If they bend instead of break, keep drying. The littlest bit of moisture can cause mold or rot. Store dried mushrooms in airtight containers such as mason jars or vacuum-sealed bags. Keep in a cool, dark place, away from sunlight or humidity/moisture.
Hydrating and Using Mushrooms
To hydrate soak in warm (not boiling) water for about twenty minutes. Drain the mushrooms but reserve the brown “broth.” This liquid is full of flavor and can be frozen into cubes for use later. It adds depth to soups or gravies. Use it as the liquid within a pizza crust recipe then add the hydrated mushrooms to the topping.
Though you can drop dried mushrooms directly into a boiling pot of soup, it’s best to hydrate first because the mushroom may still have bits of grit or dirt. Plump up the mushrooms and add them to the soup then strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve and add that as well. Ideal soups include beef stew, minestrone, cream of mushroom, and vegetable soups.
Use hydrated mushrooms in pastas, stir fries, sauces, on top of polenta, and in casseroles. Quickly saute them with shallots or garlic to intensify the flavor. Then add the broth and continue cooking the dish. Try shiitake with udon noodles, porcini with risotto, or morels within an earthy mushroom-and-onion pie.
Grind dried mushrooms into a powder to flavor recipes such as pot pies. Mix the powder into stews. Or add boiling water to make a mushroom tea and take advantage of medicinal qualities. Puree with softened butter and perhaps a little garlic then use the same day on grilled meats and vegetables.
Drying mushrooms doesn’t just preserve a bountiful collection or an unbelievable sale. It intensifies the flavor, improves the texture, and makes a useful broth upon hydration. The drying process is quick, easy, and well worth it.
Do you prefer drying mushrooms to preserve them or do you prefer to eat fresh mushrooms? What are your favorite mushroom varieties?