They don’t call it mushroom hunting for nothing. While mushrooms may be perennial, they are never predictable. That’s part of what makes it so darned exciting. When you hit the mushroom jackpot, you could easily go home with 30 pounds of choice fungi, in which case you better know how to preserve your mushroom harvest! Mushrooms are highly perishable, and different mushrooms require different preservation methods to maintain their deliciousness.
How lovely that some mushrooms actually taste better dried than fresh! I didn’t believe it was possible until I ate my first fresh porcini (roasted in butter and miso!), then my first dried porcini sauce. Both were delicious, but the flavor of the dried mushrooms was more complex and intense.
Black trumpets and cinnabar chanterelles are delicate and dry quickly; they can be dried whole. Porcinis, oysters, and morels should be cut into slices no more than 1/4″ thick, then dried in a single layer in a dehydrator at 125F. If you live in a dry climate, you may air dry your mushrooms, but be sure to protect them from insects and snails.
Depending on where you live, it may take anywhere from six to twelve hours for your mushrooms to dry. Stop when you can snap one in half with your fingers, and keep your dried mushrooms in sealed containers out of the light.
Hen of the Woods mushrooms (aka maitake) are often found growing at the base of oak trees, or along the underground roots at the base of the tree. The best way to preserve Hen of the Woods is to freeze them, without cooking.
At home, clean your mushrooms, then carve away the tough, woody center of the fungus and save it to make duxelles. Brush or rinse off the tender parts of the mushroom and spread them out to dry. Freeze them in ziplock or vacuum seal bags. That’s it!
I’ve experimented with drying Hen of the Woods, and while the flavor is nice, the texture isn’t as good as frozen. If you can’t freeze your Hens, dry them, but don’t expect a fresh mushroom texture upon rehydration. (They never fully soften.) Grind dry Hens into a powder to use in soups and sauces.
Sauté & Freeze
Chicken of the Woods, honey mushrooms, and field mushrooms are best preserved by a two-step process. First, sauté the mushrooms in the fat of your choice, then freeze them. Butter and oil are both fine for sautéing the mushrooms; you’ll want about two Tablespoons of fat for each cup of mushrooms.
Think about how you’ll use the mushrooms before you cut them for the frying pan. If you’re going to use them as a chicken substitute, chop or tear your mushrooms into large pieces. Mushrooms destined for a sauce or pastry can be cut into smaller pieces.
Melt the butter (or warm the oil), and add your mushrooms. Cook them over medium heat until they’ve released all their liquid, and the butter or oil has been absorbed. Remove the mushrooms from the heat, and let them cool before freezing. Try freezing individual containers or ziplock bags, each holding one cup of mushrooms. That makes it easy to thaw just the right quantity for your next recipe.
Dry Sauté & Freeze
Chanterelles are a special mushroom, best preserved in a special way: dry sautéed, then frozen. To dry sauté your mushrooms, slice them into pieces about 1/4″ thick, then cook them in a hot, dry pan. No oil, no butter, just heat.
Cook over medium high heat until all the liquid has evaporated, stirring to prevent burning. Cooking chanterelles this way gives them great texture and accentuates their flavor.
Remove the cooked mushrooms from the heat, then let them cool before freezing them in measured quantities.
If you’re lucky enough to hit the motherlode of wild mushrooms, you’ll need to act quickly to make the most of your harvest. Preserve your mushroom harvest now, so you can enjoy them for months to come.