Well. The shiitake experiment proved a success.
Actually, it was too successful.
Is that possible?
Our refrigerator overflowed with shiitakes. Bags and bags of shiitakes.
With only two of us that eat mushrooms, I feared that my harvest would soon end up in the compost. Peter and I just can't eat three, gallon-sized bags filled with mushrooms that quickly. But after awaiting these babies for more than a year, I refused to trash my prize.
It was time to take action.
Dehydrating mushrooms is ridiculously easy. If you have a dehydrator, it's even easier—because you can plug it in outside and avoid the stench that will permeate your house. I thought the smell of hot peppers dehydrating in the oven was bad...it was nothing compared to shiitakes.
With dried shiitakes selling for more than $18/lb., though, the odor is worth it.
How to Dry Shiitakes:
- If you have a dehydrating setting on your oven, use it. Otherwise, preheat oven to the lowest setting possible.
- Rinse mushrooms under cool water, making sure to clean between the gills where insects might lurk. Fortunately, our mushrooms were clean. However, if you find gnats or other insects, you can soak the mushrooms in a high saline solution to kill any critters, then rinse again. Pat dry.
- Remove stems from the shiitakes. The stems are fibrous and tough. You can reserve them to add flavor in soups, if you like—but you really don't want to eat them.
- Slice mushrooms thinly to speed drying. You can also dry them whole, but expect the process to take much longer for complete drying.
- Spread sliced mushrooms into a single layer on a cookie sheet. If you are using whole mushrooms, place the mushroom gill-side up.
- Place mushrooms in oven. If you have a convection oven, you can leave the door closed. Otherwise, crack open the door a bit for air circulation.
- Using the dehydrating setting, it took approximately 12 hours for the mushrooms to dry completely. Check your mushrooms hourly to ensure that they are drying properly and not burning.
- When completely dry, the mushrooms will be tough and the gills hard, not spongy. Allow to cool completely before storing.
You can store the dried mushrooms for six months in a dark, cool place, or you can freeze the dried mushrooms for a year. I chose to fill canning jars that I stored in our pantry.
Drying shiitakes adds convenience to recipes—you'll always have mushrooms on hand when a risotto craving hits. To rehydrate the mushrooms, soak the dried shiitakes in boiling water for 20 minutes or warm water for 30 minutes. Many people use the resulting liquid as a healthy tea. Dehydrated shiitakes can also be added directly to the base when making soup.
While we focus on the culinary benefits of shiitakes, the Ming Dynasty considered them to be the “elixir of life,” reserved as royal food. Shiitakes were also used medicinally to cure various ailments, including colds, flu, headaches, measles, and nutritional deficiencies, among other illnesses.
Today, many people believe that shiitakes strengthen the immune system, provide a high dose of antioxidants, lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as fight cancer, heart disease, AIDS, herpes, and other viral infections. Dried, powdered shiitakes are often used as supplements—but always consult a health practitioner before using.
Personally, I'm hoping to derive the health benefits of shiitakes by eat risotto...lots and lots of shiitake risotto.
In case you've been playing along and have your own harvest of shiitakes—or any mushrooms, for that matter, here's my favorite recipe for risotto.
Risotto ai Funghi
6 cups organic chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried (rehydrate prior to use)
2 shallots, diced
1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
¾ cups dry white wine
freshly ground pepper to taste
sea salt to taste
3 tablespoons chopped chives
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Note: Make sure to have all ingredients ready before you start. You need to stir continuously to avoid burning, so you don't want to hunt down ingredients in the midst of cooking.
- Warm the broth over
medium-low heat in a saucepan.
- In a large saucepan
over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the
mushrooms (fresh or rehydrated) and cook until soft, approximately 3
minutes. Remove mushrooms and liquid, and set aside in bowl.
- Warm 1 tablespoon
olive oil in a skillet, and add the shallots. Cook 1 minute,
stirring frequently. Add rice, stirring to coat it with the olive
oil. When the rice is golden in color (about 2 minutes), add wine.
Stir continuously until wine is absorbed. And ½ cup broth to the
rice, stirring until broth is absorbed. Continue adding ½ cup broth
at a time, stirring continuously, until liquid is absorbed and rice
is al dente, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
- Remove skillet from
heat. Add mushrooms with liquid, butter, chives, and Parmesan,
stirring well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve alone or as a
side dish. Makes approximately 6 servings.