Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Hunt for Dried Porcini Mushrooms

When Elaine revealed on Seinfeld the recipe for the Soup Nazi's Mushroom Barley soup, the first ingredient was dried porcini mushrooms. Since then, I can never think of dried porcini mushrooms without remembering the victorious tone of her voice as she declared his secret recipes were no longer secret (and those in business to sell their culinary creations have an absolute right to keep their recipes secret, for the rest of us it's debatable).
I began searching for dried porcini mushrooms after an episode of Everyday Italian. Chef Giada de Laurentis made a porcini mushroom risotto. I had arborio rice, onions, white wine, garlic, chicken broth and parmesan. Giada's recipe also included gorgonzola cheese, which I could easily find at my local grocery store. But the main ingredient, the dried porcini mushrooms, were not available there. So I made a visit to the Super H Mart Asian grocery store. I was able to find my beloved Asian Home Gourmet spice blends there, as well as a wide array of unidentifiable dried mushrooms, but no dried porcinis. I decided I needed to go to Whole Foods.
I didn't make it to Whole Foods that weekend, and didn't decide to go until I was in the car on the way home several days later. Since I was new to the neighborhood, I didn't know exactly where the Whole Foods was and ended up calling a friend, calling 411, and finally calling my dad. By then, I was nearly home and not really expecting to go to Whole Foods that night, but my dad was very enthusiastic about the idea of porcini mushroom risotto. Especially if I made it for him on Christmas Eve.
I finally made it to Whole Foods a few days later and found the dried porcini mushrooms amidst a display of dried oyster, shiitake, portabella and other mushroom varieties. In case you're looking for them, they should be in the produce section. Dried mushrooms are always rehydrated in warm water or broth, and any good recipe will have you incorporate the rehydration liquid into the recipe. My mushroom risotto was made with chicken broth that was used to rehydrate the mushrooms.
Would fresh mushrooms be as good? I'm not sure you can find fresh porcini mushrooms. You can certainly make a risotto with a combination of shiitake, oyster, and button mushrooms. The idea behind the dried mushrooms is to use the rehydration liquid to infuse more flavor into the final product. And porcini mushrooms are often described as earthy or meaty. Like portabellas, the porcini can be part of a great vegetarian meal where you don't even realize the meat is missing.
Was the hunt for dried porcini mushrooms worth it? My dad declared the risotto had a strong mushroom flavor. I guess that means goal accomplished! Look for the recipe on the food network website.

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