/ by Julia Sibley-Jones

/ photography by Chelsea Lane Photography

Humans love mushrooms and I think the proof is in how we have lovingly and whimsically named them such as Chicken of the Wood, Fairy Ring, Hedgehog, Hen of the Wood, Lobster and of course the aptly named Oyster mushroom. Moreover, here’s how we describe their flavor: savory, earthy, rich, musky, smoky, woodsy or meaty. Clearly, we think mushrooms lend a bit of magic to any dish.

Add mushrooms to soups, casseroles, omelets; eat them raw in salads or let your risotto lounge with them. Mushrooms have the innate ability to deepen a cream sauce or brighten a burger; they are one of the most versatile of foods. They are also a good source of fiber and protein, chock full of nutrients and antioxidants. In fact, mushrooms are one of the few plant sources of Vitamin D. And, there are so many varieties, but fresh mushrooms don’t have much of a shelf life and some are hard to find in the States.

Enter the dried mushroom. Mushrooms are found all over the world and in almost every season. The best way to harness all that earthy goodness is to keep dried mushrooms in your pantry. Avoid moisture and heat by sealing them in airtight containers and storing in a cool, dark spot. Even better, frozen dried mushrooms keep for up to a year (but make sure to purchase whole ones).

A local source for dried mushrooms is Mushroom Mountain in Easley. They also offer tours and workshops, sell kits for growing your own mushrooms, and are involved in mycroremediation research, or the ability to remove biological and chemical contaminants from water and soil with the use of fungus.

So, are you ready to take the plunge? Any recipe calling for mushrooms can use a dried variety if you allow time to rehydrate the ’shrooms. Dried mushrooms tend to have a more intense flavor than fresh, but otherwise, use them as you would mushrooms in any recipe.

Start off with an easy mushroom gravy and smother some mashed potatoes for a comfort food night. I plan to tackle a mushroom bourguignon this winter. On these cold nights, you can’t go wrong with a savory mushroom dish.

How to rehydrate mushrooms

  1.  Measure the mushrooms and place in bowl. Cover with water and submerge. For faster rehydrating, use hot water.
  2. Soak for 20-30 minutes, depending on thickness and amount of mushrooms.
  3. When mushrooms are soft all the way through, remove them from water, squeezing gently. If gritty, rinse mushrooms under running water for a few seconds.
  4. Strain mushroom liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel and reserve. Use immediately or refrigerate for 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Savory Mushroom Gravy, adapted from Anna Lapp

Method:

Rehydrate ½ oz mushrooms. Drain, sieve and save all liquid. Chop mushrooms.

Into one cup of liquid, whisk in 3 Tbs cornstarch or arrowroot until smooth and set aside.

Heat 2-3 Tbs oil over medium heat. Add ¼ cup chopped shallots and cook until tender.

Add 8 oz sliced, fresh mushrooms and cook until soft, about 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to bowl.

Add ½ cup dry white wine to pan, stirring occasionally until reduced by half.

Return cooked mushrooms to pan and add reserved liquid and chopped rehydrated mushrooms.

Bring to a boil. Stir in cornstarch mixture and simmer until thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.