Returning to the introductions of the sensation of wild mushroom foraging from the article Fungophobe or Fungophile, meet the king of the fungi kingdom, the Bolete.
The King Bolete, Boletus edulis, is robust in both size and taste. Rotund like a little piggy, the Italians call them Porcinis. Thick and meaty, the Porcini lives up to its name. Many varieties of this species are edible, including: King, Queen, White King, Butter, Admirable, Zeller’s, Birch, Orange Birch, and Aspen. I can only attest to the edibility and deliciousness of the King and Queen, as they are the common types that are grown nearby.
Boletes are an unmistakable type of mushroom. Fat stumpy bodies, with giant caps and a spongy under layer are immediate identifiers. The cap of the King Bolete is brown to yellow-brown, red-brown or dark red; while the cap of the Queen Bolete, (Boletus aereus) is darker brown. When fresh, the surface of the cap is firm; if old, it is fluffy and spongy. For both the King and Queen varieties, the stalk is at least 1-inch thick at top, white to brown and the surface is finely netted. The flesh is white, and does not stain blue or brown when cut. The taste is mild or nutty, never bitter.
Boletes are typically found on the ground in woods, and on the edges of the wood. Most often, they are clumped in groups. I tend to find them near conifers, but they are also located near oak and birch. Sparse patches of Boletes will be found in the Spring, but the mass crop grows in late summer/early fall when the weather starts to turn a little cooler and moisture precipitates the air.
Three types of toxic Boletes exist: Slender Red-pored, Red-pored, and Satan’s. I have never seen any of the three, but they are distinguishable by their red sponge layers and bluish stain bruising on the flesh.
If you have found and identified a true bolete, a happy dance is in order. Make sure the cap is firm. If it is spongy, look close for tiny white to yellow wiggly lines. Maggots! Don’t despair. I don’t prefer maggots in my mushrooms, but you know the old cliche on desperate times. You can soak the mushrooms in salt water to help remove the creepy crawlers, but that often lends to soggy shrooms. Another option is to simply pick them out. If there are too many to count, chuck it and try again. The best Porcini is one that is found as a shrump—it’s bald head puffing beneath the surface of the forest floor. Most often the shrumps are maggot free, firm, and delectable.
To clean, gently rinse off dirt from the cap, and scrape the remaining dirt from the stem with a vegetable peeler. The spongy layer under the cap needs to be removed. It can be used to make broths, but should not be consumed itself. Once the mushroom is clean, cut the cap where it connects to the stem. The cap should be sliced downward to show off the beautiful curving feature. The remaining stem can be sliced or diced.
I love the versatility of cooking Porcinis, as they are fabulous dehydrated, cooked fresh, or frozen for future use. If dehydrating, I remove as much moisture as possible then crush them to a powder added with salt, or reconstitute later with water to flavor winter dishes. Cooking fresh, I dry sauté the mushroom until all of the moisture has cooked out, and then at the end I add a dab of heavy cream. The cream immediately absorbs into the porcini and the flavor is out of this world! If freezing for future use, I dice into 1/2-inch pieces, and toss the bag directly into the freezer. No pre-cooking is needed. To cook, thaw and sauté as described above. Porcinis are an excellent meat substitute as they are hardy in and of themselves, but they also go excellently atop steak or chicken if you are more of the carnivorous type. The ideas are virtually endless; just never consume wild mushrooms raw. Our bodies do not contain the right enzymes to digest.
In warmer climates, there may be a few lingering Boletes to add to your foraging palette. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I have bid adieu to the wonderful fresh flavors on my plate, reminiscent now in powdered or frozen form. Gone are the days of 50-lb harvests, only to return in 10 months. Don’t deprive yourself any longer if you’ve never feasted on a fat Porcini. Find it, try it, love it.