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How to Dry and Freeze Wild Mushrooms
Sometimes you pick so many mushrooms that you will want to preserve them to eat them at a later date. Here are a few of the ways that you can preserve mushrooms for later use.
This is the simplest and most versatile way of preserving mushrooms. The principle is quite simple, by driving off all of the water the mushroom stops metabolising, and no spoilage organisms can grow. The only problem is that most of the mushroom is actually water. So, how do you go about drying your mushrooms?
If you have more than a couple of handfulls of mushrooms to dry, use the tray method. Many people use wire or wickerwork trays for this, but I find that ordinary baking sheets lined with some newspaper and a sheet of baking parchment works fine.
Arrange your slices of mushroom around the tray, making sure that they're not overlapping each other, and disgarding any slices that are maggoty. Dry them in a warm place, as above, and when they're dry (it takes about 8 hours or so in my airing cupboard) pack them away in airtight jars.
Drying works especially well for the boletus mushrooms. Cep in particular is dried as a matter of course by many pickers, who claim it tastes far more intense. I personlly add a few mixed dried mushrooms to soups, stews and even gravy, and find that this imparts an intense flavour to most things.
Most mushrooms can be dried. It's probably not a good idea to dry great big slices of giant puffball, or anything picked on a really wet day. Remember that mushrooms are mostly water, and they can absorb a huge amount of extra water in the rain. Your chances of successfully drying anything that wet would seem remote! But other than that this simple technique will allow you to enjoy the fruit of your autumn expeditions well into the next season.
If you haven't got an airing cupboard, or if you need to dry more mushrooms than you have space for, then you might want to consider building or buying a drying cabinet. I've never had need of one myself, but the principle is very simple, and involves rigging up a small, low power lamp at the bottom of a cabinet with shelves for drying off the mushrooms on. Despite its simplicity this kind of rig is normally only used by the real fanatic!
Depending on what you plan to do with your stored mushrooms, freezing might be your best option. It's not going to keep the flavour as well as drying, and it doesn't intensify the flavour of the mushrooms in the same way, but if you plan to make pates or sautees with your mushrooms then this is the way for you.
Your mushrooms will require some kind of pre-cooking. I reccomend slicing them, and frying them in a little olive oil with some chopped browned onion and garlic, and just a little black pepper. Freeze them in small portions, and when you're ready to use your mushrooms just melt a portion in a pan.
You can take this a step further by producing a duxelles. This is a paste produced by chopping the mushrooms and onions very finely and fry with some butter or olive oil over a low heat for a long time (an hour or so) until you have a crumbly, dry-ish mixture. Again, freeze in small lots so you can defrost what you need when you need it. There are innumeravble variations of this, incorporating different herbs and flacours, and if you have the time the duxelles is unsurpassed for richness of flavour.
Alternatively you can blanch your mushrooms by brief boiling or steaming. Give the mushrooms a wash to remove any grit or dirt, and drop them into boiling water. Bring back to the boil and cook for two minutes, before draining and refreshing in cold water. This isn't the tastiest way of preserving mushrooms, and you lose a lot of texture, but if you're in a hurry it's better than nothing. A slightly better result can be obtained by steaming the mushrooms.