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How To Prepare Dried Mushrooms for Cooking

Many accomplished cooks often list dried mushrooms as an essential pantry item. They may not be right there on top with olive oil and sacks of rice but they usually hold their own somewhere in the middle, especially if you cook Asian or European cuisines. Dried mushrooms can be pricy, but they pack a lot of flavors. Once the mushrooms are soaked, strained, and chopped, even just a small amount will add enormous flavor to a dish. Here’s how to make the most of your dried mushrooms.

Once an exotic, somewhat obscure item, dried mushrooms are easily available in many grocery stores these days. They fall roughly into two categories: Asian mushrooms like shiitake, wood ear, cloud ear, and matsutake, and European/American mushrooms like porcini, morel, trumpet, and chanterelle. Their quality, flavor, and amount of grit can vary considerably. Price is often a good guide as the pricier versions tend to be of higher quality and lower grit. Purchase your mushrooms from a reliable source or find a brand that you can rely on for quality. They will last a very long time — a year, if not more — if kept in a well-sealed container.

Dried mushrooms need to be reconstituted with water before you can use them, and this produces two wonderful things: the mushrooms themselves and their flavorful soaking liquid. Both can be used in soups, stews, sauces, pâtés, and gratins. Often dried mushrooms are used in conjunction with not-so-flavorful button mushrooms to give them a boost. Dried mushrooms add a rich, meaty, savory note and are high in umami.

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