.Boletes (Porcini) Mushroom
If there is a universally popular wild mushroom, it may be Boletus edulis. The French refer to them affectionately as cèpes, the Germans glorify them as Steinpilz, and the Italians are wild about their porcini, meaning piglets (pigs compete for them). The Swedish refer to their treasures as stensopp. In Poland, borowik are canned and sold in the market. The Russians claim byelii-greeb sustained them during wartime when other food was not available. In this country, B. edulis is sometimes called "king bolete."
Many people use different types of these "hamburger bun," brown-capped, bulbous-stemmed, pore-bearing early fall delicacies interchangeably with B. edulis. Most mushroom hunters commonly refer to all of these mushrooms as "boletes." Here, we will refer to fresh B. edulis as cèpes, and dried B. edulis as porcini. The genus Leccinum, "scaber stalk mushrooms," with white pores and black scales on their white pillar-like stems, and the genus Suillus, "slippery jacks," with sticky caps, gray-white to yellow pores, and narrower stems are among the edible boletes. However, those with red pores must be avoided. They are dangerous.
In general, fresh firm specimens are best for cooking or drying. Discard wormy ones or those with soft brown decomposing flesh.
Leccinum and Suillus as a rule grow in association with specific trees in a variety of plant communities. By contrast, B. edulis is most commonly found in pine forests.
Boletes are different from other mushrooms in that they have pores rather than gills on the underside of the cap. Spores are released by the thousands from the inner walls of hundreds of tiny round tubes, making up the lower cap surface. This spore-bearing area resembles and acts like a sponge.
About ten days after the first heavy rains fall in the west, in September or October, young forms begin mounding up the pine needles under the trees. In the east, this occurs during the summer months. They are frequently found in large numbers. Specimens of differing ages are found at the same time. In some locations the season can last for four or five weeks. B. edulis is indeed grand and hardy to behold, with its fat, bulbous stem decorated at the top with a network of lacy white veins and its nourishing brown cap held high above the forest floor.
Leccinum species as a rule are found near madrone, aspen, and birch trees and manzanita bushes.
People from Slavic countries revel when they find species of Suillus. These are most often found near pine trees and must be collected young. Suillus granulatus has a perfumed odor and is commonly found near Monterey pines. Usually it is pickled for later use.
Older boletes should have their pores removed at once if they are soggy or green. This portion of the cap is not good-tasting, cooks poorly, and is impossible to dry. This is not a problem with young firm specimens.
Cleaning Fresh Boletes: The minimum use of water is important. Try not to allow water to enter the pore surface, for it tends to absorb a great deal of moisture. Remove any dark parts of the mushroom. Brush off the caps of Boletus and Leccinum. Peel off slimy tops of Suillus. If old, gently separate the spongy material from below the cap, using your finger or a knife, and peel off carefully. Check the underside of the cap for worm holes. If there are many, discard the cap. If only a few exist, use the parts not affected.
Cooking Fresh Boletes: These mushrooms can be slippery. To reduce this quality, quickly fry slices in oil or butter. The simplest method of preparation is to sauté them in olive oil and butter, then add a rich brown sauce and serve as a side dish with steak, broiled chicken, or fish. Or layer fried mushrooms over rice, or baked, or mashed potatoes. Another way to quickly prepare boletes is to dip thick slices in beaten eggs, then dust in seasoned bread crumbs for deep-frying.
It has been observed that the fresh Boletus edulis flown here from Italy has a stronger odor and taste than the same mushroom found in this country. From this and from similar observations made of other mushrooms, it may be concluded that botanically identical species of mushrooms from different localities may have noticeably dissimilar characteristics of size, odor, and taste. This suggests that, in part, subtle chemical and physical differences may result from the habitat in which the mushrooms grow.
Preserving: Boletes change rapidly. They should be used or preserved as soon as you bring them home.
In the United States, the most common method of preserving boletes is to dry them. Cut them into lengthwise slices no less than 1/2-inch thick from cap to base including the stems (see Preserving).
Boletes may be frozen and stored after being sliced into l/4-inch slices and placed in a freezer bag. They will keep well for 6 months (see Preserving).
Pickled boletes may serve as a conversation piece for your cocktail party.
Cooking with Dried Boletes: As a rule, 3 ounces of dried boletes will equal 1 pound of rehydrated mushrooms. Much variation is found in chefs' opinions as to how long to soak them. On the average they are soaked for about l5 minutes in warm water to cover. Heat hastens the rehydration process. The length of time depends upon the thickness of the slices. Squeeze dry, but be sure to save the liquid in the bowl to preserve the rich flavor for use in your dish.
Dried boletes have a deep, rich taste that dominates soups and sauces for polentas and pastas. When you cook with dried B. edulis your kitchen will be redolent with its powerful fragrance. The essence of the mushroom persists in the cooking pot even after the pot has been washed and dried.
Cut mushrooms into desired sizes after soaking. In general, the larger the pieces, the more flavor. Some chefs prefer to sauté them quickly in olive oil and butter before adding them to the dish they are preparing. Add the remaining soaking liquid to your food preparation by carefully pouring off the concentrated essence from the top, discarding any residual matter such as sand or soil at the bottom of the vessel.
Commercially Dried Boletes: Dried bulk or bagged boletes command high prices in the marketplace. The imported Italian boletes (porcini) are usually dark in appearance, and their smell is intense and aromatic. Home-dried preparations do not have the same odor and are lighter in color. Old-timers claim that dried mushrooms develop a deeper, more robust aroma if kept for two or three years.
When you shop for dried boletes, inspect them carefully to be certain there are no gilled caps present. Sometimes mushrooms of lesser quality are mixed with or substituted for B. edulis. Bagged products may also contain broken and granulated brittle pieces of fungi which will not reconstitute well and have little taste. Purchase only solid, clean, thickly sliced mushrooms. Imported Polish boletes seem to require long soaking periods. They must be reconstituted overnight before cooking.