Porcini are wild mushrooms that are very popular in Italian, French, and other European cuisines for their umami nutty flavor, meaty texture, and fleshiness.
WHAT PORCINI LOOK LIKE
Porcini have brown caps 2-8 inches wide with a thin white rim and white or yellow pores. Their stalks are bulbous at first, becoming club-shaped or cylindrical, white or light brown.
There is an albino version of the king bolete, which is all white. It is very rare. I have not found it yet in the 30 years that I forage mushrooms. I will add a photo if I do.
Two other species closely resemble the king bolete and are often considered porcini as well:
QUEEN BOLETE, AKA PINEWOOD BOLETE (BOLETUS PINOPHILUS)
Queen bolete is very similar to king bolete but has a red-brown cap with white pores that become yellow with age, white pores that become yellow with age, and a white bulbous stalk that becomes cylindrical and pink-brown. Its favored tree is pine.
SUMMER BOLETE (BOLETUS RETICULATUS)
This fantastic mushroom grows mainly during summer in a symbiotic relationship with oaks. It resembles the king bolete but has a paler cap, and its stalk is browner.
There are other edible boletes in the Boletus family that resemble porcini. They are all edible and high-quality mushrooms.
There are similar boletes that are inedible or poisonous, though. Inedible look-alike species are bitter. All poisonous porcino look-alikes have red pores. Red color on a bolete is generally a big no until you become experienced enough to identify the few edible boletes that have red on them.
PORCINI VS. CEPS
“Porcini” is Italian for “piglets.” This widely used common name originates in the fleshiness and umami flavor of porcini mushrooms. “Ceps” or “cépes” are their English and French names, respectively. The singular is “porcino.”
BITTER BOLETE (TYPOPHILLUS FELLEUS)
You can tell a bitter bolete from a porcino by its lighter cap, pink pores, and yellow stalk with a prominent net pattern. If you are unsure, you can taste a tiny bit briefly and spit it out. A porcino has a pleasant flavor, while a bitter bolete is unpleasantly bitter.
If you mismatch just a single small bitter bolete for a porcino and cook it, the whole meal will become so bitter it will be inedible.
BOLETUS SATANAS, BOLETUS LUPINUS, BOLETUS LEGALIAE, BOLETUS RHODAXANTHUS, AND OTHER POISONOUS BOLETES
Unlike porcini, the poisonous boletes all have a shade of red on their pores, and some even on the stalk or the cap. Their flesh turns blue if harmed. They are mostly bitter, but taste-testing is not a good idea. Just licking some of them could cause you heavy nausea and vomiting.
The poisonous boletes are scarce, and none of them are deadly. Still, take special care when identifying boletes. They can cause gastrointestinal poisoning that lasts for several days.
I don’t elaborate deeper into how to identify them in this post due to the red color.
WHEN DO PORCINI GROW?
Porcini mushroom season starts in late spring and lasts until fall. The high season is in late summer and early fall. The season starts about 10 days after the first heavy rain. They grow the most if the weather is moderately warm and in the days after a rain.
WHERE DO PORCINI GROW?
You can find porcini in the temporal zone’s woodlands worldwide, including North America, Europe, South Africa, and New Zealand.
WHAT TREES DO PORCINI GROW UNDER
Porcini form symbiotic relationships called mycorrhiza with numerous tree species. Their most favorite companions are spruce, pine, and chestnut trees. When you go forage for them in the US or Canada, your best bet is a coniferous forest.
In mycorrhizal relationships, the mushroom gets carbohydrates, products of photosynthesis, from the tree. In return, mushrooms provide the tree with water and minerals that they absorb from the soil. The trees can also use the mycelium network formed to spread messages to other trees.
Yes, you read that right. Trees communicate with each other about events around them and how they “feel.” That makes the mushrooms’ mycelium network the world’s first social medium.
BEWARE OF PORCINI FROM POLLUTED AREAS
Porcini can absorb chemicals and especially heavy metals easily. Avoid porcini mushrooms from polluted areas entirely. While one such mushroom will probably cause little to no harm, long-term consumption could lead to cumulative poisoning and serious health problems.
EXAMPLES OF PLACES WHERE YOU SHOULDN’T FORAGE PORCINI
- by a coal power plant
- in a city park
- by a road
- by a blast furnace
Luckily, foraging porcini mushrooms from a forest outside of civilization are safe.
MEDICINAL EFFECTS OF PORCINI
As proven by research, king bolete contains compounds that have anti-lumbago, antioxidative, and antitumor effects.
This is typical for the mushroom kingdom: great edibles double as medicinal mushrooms. To my knowledge, there are no porcini-based supplements on the market. But I indulge in porcini so often that I think of it as self-medication.
NUTRITIONAL VALUES OF PORCINI
|g/100g (dry matter)
Porcini are a great dietary ingredient and a superfood. They have a low calorie and high protein content. They are organic and vegan. In moderate amounts, they fit in low fodmap diets.
You can learn more about the benefits of mushrooms to your diet, and their medicinal effects in my post Are mushrooms good for you?
DON’T EAT PORCINI RAW
Porcini mushrooms require heat preparation. They are difficult to digest raw, and while some people can handle them raw, they could cause gastric upset to others.
WHAT ARE PORCINI GOOD FOR
Porcini have a mild umami flavor with a nutty tone. They are culinary universal. You can use them in almost any kind of meal, but they are excellent in sauces, soups, and risottos. And they do wonders when you combine them with red meat.
The mild umami taste of porcini is only replaceable with other boletes. If you don’t have any, don’t expect other mushrooms to substitute them in a porcini recipe. The taste of the meal would be different and often disharmonic.
Shiitake mushrooms are often suggested as a porcini substitute for their umami flavor and availability. However, shiitake is also less mushroomy and has a very dominant sulfurous aroma, disturbing in most porcini-based recipes, which are supposed to have a mushroomy aroma.
Porcini mushrooms can be preserved by every method. The most popular way of preserving them is dehydration as it amplifies their aroma and makes them last the longest, up to several years. Pickling in salt water, vinegar, or olive oil are also great choices. The least popular method is freezing.
You can read about the various methods of drying porcini in my guide How to dry mushrooms.
If you didn’t rehydrate the dried porcini before cooking, they could go bitter.
Soak them in cold water for 20 minutes. They will regain volume. Keep the soaking liquid and use it as mushroom broth.
Porcini powder is a potent mushroom spice made by finely grinding dried porcini. It is so aromatic that with just half a teaspoon of porcini powder, you will add a lovely mushroomy flavor to almost any meal.
You can buy porcini powder, but I recommend making your own because 1. it is quite expensive (justifiably) and 2. because foraging porcini is great fun!
Porcini marinated in oil (porcini sott’olio)Course: AppetizersCuisine: Italian, Mediterranean
You can serve porcini mushrooms marinated in oil as a delicious entrée, as a side dish with meat, or in a salad. They also make an amazing gift for any friend who enjoys mushrooms or Italian cuisine. Unlike mushrooms pickled in vinegar water, these porcini preserve their heavenly umami flavor. Ever since I have tried this recipe for the first time, I make a coouple of jars every year.
1.5 lb small or medium-sized fresh porcini
1.5 cup olive oil extra virgin
4 tsp salt
6 cloves garlic
1 cup vinegar
- Mushroom preparation
- Clean the mushrooms perfectly. Cut off any spoiled parts. Make sure they aren’t wormy. Quarter any larger mushrooms.
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add the vinegar and the mushrooms. Cook for 15 minutes.
- Let the mushrooms cool down.
- Get rid of the fluid. Let the mushrooms dry for 10 hours. (Leave them in a sifter or spread them on paper kitchen towels.)
- Clean the jar perfectly with hot water.
- Slice the garlic.
- Fill the jar with the mushrooms.
- Heat the oil and add the garlic. Cover and cook until the garlic becomes golden-colored.
- Pour the hot oil onto the mushrooms. All of the mushrooms should be below the surface.
- Seal the jar.
- Store in a cold dark place.
- If properly sealed and stored, porcini sott’olio will keep for at least 6 months.
- At first, it may seem the jar is not big enough. However, the mushrooms will lose volume during cooking.
- You can also marinate other firm fleshy mushrooms like bay boletes, button mushrooms, field mushrooms, or lobster mushrooms.
- How to forage or buy porcini? Read this post.
CANNING IN VINEGAR
Porcini mushroom pickles are quite popular, especially in Eastern Europe, as a snack or a side dish for fatty foods. If you like vegetable pickles, you will like pickled porcini too. They are sour, rubbery, and delicate. Normally, they would only last for a few weeks, but canned ones keep for a year.
FREEZING COOKED PORCINI
Don’t freeze fresh porcini. To freeze porcini, sauté them first if you want to use them for any meal later. Once they cool down, seel them well in a container and put them in a freezer. They will keep for at least 3 months. You can freeze any porcini meal in the same way.
You can read more about this topic in my guide How to store mushrooms.
HOW TO TELL IF A PORCINO IS BAD
Porcini can go putrid quickly, and the changes may not be visible. The best way to determine if a porcino has gone bad already is by the time that passed since foraging. Fresh porcini will only keep for a day (or for 3 days if stored in a fridge).
Once changes become visible and your porcini soften and fade, definitely toss them.
CAN PORCINI MAKE YOU SICK?
Just like meat, porcini contain proteins that can become botulinum toxin if they become putrid. To avoid food poisoning, never keep porcini in a plastic bag, store them in the fridge, and toss them if they are too old.
If there are insect tunnels in the flesh or yellow spots in the stalk of your porcini, just cut the parts off and toss them. This has little to no effect on the overall quality of the mushrooms. However, use mushrooms that had worms for immediate cooking. Don’t dry them.
White spots on top of the cap can be caused by growing in the sunlight. Don’t worry about them if the mushroom grew in a sunny area.
WILL FROST KILL PORCINI?
When the temperatures become freezing, the water inside the porcino becomes ice, increases volume, and kills the mushroom’s cells. Once the mushroom unfreezes, it will start to rot, which may not be apparent from the outside. Avoid foraging porcini that froze and unfroze.
You can read more about this topic in my post This is how you forage mushrooms safely (anyone can do it).
WHAT ABOUT PORCINI THAT ARE SOAKED IN WATER?
Porcini love rain. But since they soak water in like a sponge, there is a limit to how much rain they can survive. A long rain will kill them. Don’t forage porcini that are so watery that they drip water or porcini with visible changes due to getting overly waterly and then drying.
Unlike other boletes, porcini mostly aren’t attacked by mold. In case you find a moldy bolete, leave it behind or toss it. Don’t just cut off the visibly moldy parts. The mold is a fungus, and its invisible mycelium spreads through the entire mushroom.
CAN PORCINI MUSHROOMS BE CULTIVATED?
Porcini mushrooms are mycorrhizal and require a complex ecosystem. Because of that, they cannot be cultivated. Don’t buy porcini spores or mycelium. It won’t work. The offers are a scam.
The author of the following video explains the topic more thoroughly:
BUYING PORCINI MUSHROOMS
In season, you will be able to buy porcini mushrooms in markets and grocery stores. The supply will always be limited because porcini cannot be cultivated. The usual price is $30 per pound of fresh porcini and 5-10 times as much for dried porcini. It may go lower in great seasons.
WHERE ARE THEY FROM?
Fresh porcini for sale should be harvested locally. They wouldn’t last fresh if transported overseas, so avoid purchasing such mushrooms. Dried porcini can be from the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, or Australia.
WHERE TO BUY DRIED PORCINI MUSHROOMS
Dried porcini are often sold in health food stores. Also, almost any larger supermarket can have them in the gourmet section. Many foragers dry their porcini and sell them online while the stocks from the most recent season last.
I LOVE PORCINI
Well, since you have read this far, you probably noticed that by now. It is the combination of porcini’s delicious taste, mushroomy aroma, cute looks, and the joy they cause me every time I find them that makes me love them. Give them a chance, and you will fall for them too.