December 26, 2017
Botanically called ‘boletus edulis’ this mushroom is most commonly known as ‘penny bun’, ‘cep’ or ‘porcini’. In Germany you will find it under the name ‘Steinpilz’ whilst Austrians call it ‘Herrenpilz’.
Naturally only growing in the northern hemisphere it has been introduced to southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
The fungus grows in deciduous and coniferous forests, forming symbiotic associations with living trees. It can be found in coastal forest, dry interior oak forests and savannahs, as well as high-elevation mixed forests [up to 3.500 m]. Not picky when it comes to climate zones the distribution extends north to Scandinavia and south to Morocco.
Although it gets sold commercially, it’s very difficult to cultivate.
The fruit body has a large reddish-brown cap. Usually around 7-15 cm they can sometimes reach up to 35 cm in diameter and 3kg in weight. Slightly sticky to touch, it is convex in shape when young and flattens with age. Rather than gills this mushroom has tubes extending downward from the underside of the cap. The pore surface of the fruit body is whitish when young, but ages to a greenish-yellow. The stem is white or yellowish in colour and partially covered with a raised network pattern. Rather large in comparison to the cap the stem can get up to 7cm thick. The flesh of the fruit body is white, thick and firm when young, but becomes somewhat spongy with age.
Available fresh in autumn it can be dried and preserved for the rest of the year. If hunting for mushrooms pick a dry, warm day after a short rain period.
SHOPPING + STORAGE
The porchino mushroom is one of the safest wild mushrooms to pick for the table, as no poisonous species closely resembles it. If you ever happen to pick one where the cut turns blue you happened to pick a bay bolete mushroom [German: Maronenröhrling] – which is fine since that one is also edible.
But in any case – only ever pick mushrooms if you are completely sure you know are what you were looking for!
Important when hunting for mushrooms is to always cut the stem and don’t pull it out of the earth. They have a underground network of mycorrhizal that allows the mushroom to regrow.
Never wash mushrooms. Use a brush or a damp cloth to clean them.
If you buy the mushrooms dried try to pick whole dried mushrooms with a strong smell. Avoid packages made up of too much dust or crumbled pieces, as the flavour is not likely to be very strong.
When purchasing fresh, make sure to pick young mushrooms. The darker, softer and more covered in spots the cap is the less good it will be for eating.
Worms like these mushrooms just as much as humans do. Quite often you’ll find a beautiful porchino which turns out to be half eaten on the inside. If there are only a few worms inside turn the mushroom on its cap and they’ll eat their way out of the stem. The worms are harmless and quite common, so if you do accidentally eat a few you’ll be fine.
Porchino mushrooms are best eaten fresh or dried. Cut them into about 5mm thick slices and lie them out to dry on a clean paper. The drying process will take a couple of days but can be sped up by putting them into the oven. If kept in an airtight container they will keep for a long time. Experts swear this way the mushrooms are the most flavour intense. Reconstitution is done by soaking in hot [but not boiling] water for about twenty minutes. [The water used is infused with the mushroom aroma and it too can be used in subsequent cooking.] Alternatively the dried mushrooms can be ground into powder and used as a spice.
They can also be frozen. To do so blanch them in hot water for 2-3 minutes. [Blanching before freezing can extend the freezer life up to 12 months.]
Add a little lemon juice so they don’t lose their colour and freeze. Don’t let them defrost but toss them into your dish frozen. The colour, aroma, and taste of frozen porcini deteriorate noticeably if frozen longer than four months.
The porchino mushroom is an edible mushroom commonly prepared and eaten in soups, pasta, sauces or risotto. They are also eaten and enjoyed raw or sautéed with butter. Make sure to try them fried with or without a flour coating for an appetiser or grilled like you would a piece of meat.
The porchino mushroom is also one of the few fungi that can be pickled.
Porchino mushrooms possess a nutty, earthy character that is pleasantly counterbalanced by a bit of sweetness and bitterness.
Due to their high moisture content they need to be treated with care. Otherwise they will end up soggy, slimy, or even leathery. Especially the sponge [tubes on the underside] tends to fill with grit or turn slimy when cooked improperly. [Take care not to use too much stock, oil or sauce while cooking them]
The mushroom is low in fat and digestible carbohydrates and high in protein, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. It also contains antiviral compounds, antioxidants and phytochelatins, which give the organism resistance to toxic heavy metals.
Depending on environmental temperature and relative humidity during growth and storage the mushroom consists of around 80% moisture.
The fruit bodies contain 4.7 microgram of vitamin D2 per 100 g dry weight. The relatively high ergosterol content of the fruit bodies can make the mushroom nutritionally pragmatic for vegetarians and vegans.
A small word of warning – mushrooms tend to collect heavy metals and in regions around Tschnobyl [Austria, southern Germany, …] still show traces of radioactivity. Although usually under the limits of proposing any health risks individual specimens might spike in values.
Nutritional value per 100g [% of Daily Value]