Drying is a simple and easy method of preserving mushrooms at home. It is cost efficient and there is no extra packaging to dispose of. Dried mushrooms are usually considered a ‘luxury’ food item – at the supermarket 130 grams is worth a whopping $32. The cost of the home made equivalent is $5 to $10 depending on where you buy them. If you come across wild mushrooms, make sure they are edible before taking them home to cook or dry. A few years ago, we had a large amount of wild field mushrooms growing in our back yard and I took a couple to our local green grocer for identification.
It only takes about fifteen minutes to prepare a kilogram of fresh mushrooms ready for drying. First, make sure they are free of soil by brushing them lightly with a clean dry cloth or basting brush, and chop off the stems. Cut them finely with a sharp knife – 1 to 2 millimeters thick is fine.
Lay the slices on drying trays – I use clean curtain mesh (from the local op shop) in several layers to maximize airflow. Lay the fabric on kitchen trays, large plates or cake cooling racks. That’s all there is to it! Leave the trays somewhere warm inside or outside – not in direct sunlight – and remember to protect them from birds. Bring them back inside overnight. In warm weather, they should be ready for storage within 48 hours.
To protect the drying trays from birds, dust and insects, I drape a larger piece of mesh curtain over them. If it’s windy, it needs to be secured with pegs on all four sides.
You will know they are ready when they feel light, dry and papery. If you are not sure, put them in the storage container loosely, keep them on your kitchen bench and leave the lid off for a couple more days. I store them in glass jars, but you can also use plastic containers. Just be aware plastic will develop a strong ‘mushroom’ smell – this can be removed by soaking your container in a 50/50, water/vinegar solution.
Dried mushrooms can be kept in the pantry, ready to use at short notice. They can be used in place of fresh mushrooms in most recipes. I usually add them dry to the cooking pot if I am making a pasta sauce, stew or soup. They are easily reconstituted by soaking in plain water for 15 minutes. The liquid can be saved for use in soups and sauces. They will reconstitute to about 8 times their dry weight. I cook with them at least a couple of times a week and they are a good standby for quick and easy meals like pasta, omelettes and stir fries. I also use them as a meat substitute or extender.
If you have not tried drying mushrooms before, I encourage you to give it a go. Start with a small amount until you gain confidence, and enjoy the benefits and convenience of having them on tap in your home pantry.