When it comes to wild mushroom varieties, it can be difficult to find fresh and even more difficult to bring yourself to pay for them. However, dried mushrooms are cheaper, available year-round, and deliver more flavor. What’s not to love?

I dare say most of us do not have regular access to perfectly fresh exotic mushrooms like morels and porcinis. And even if we do see great specimens for sale, the price tag might cause you to faint. But there is a way to add these beauties to your regular cooking.

Dried mushrooms might seem, at first glance, to be the ugly “second best” of the mushroom world, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the flavor is much deeper and stronger than fresh… and they are always available. I tend to buy bags of single types of dried mushrooms, but there are some very good “wild mushroom blends” available as well. (Also commonly called “forest blends.”)

When purchasing, always look for large slices, with no holes, and very little “dust” in the bottom of the bag. The dust indicates age and handling problems, and the holes indicate, sorry to say, insect activity.

To rehydrate your dried mushrooms, I place the amount I need (generally one ounce or less) in a glass measuring cup, add some very hot water or stock, and let the mushrooms sit for 15-20 minutes. Whatever you do, do not throw out the wildly flavorful soaking liquid. Just strain it through a very fine sieve, or a coffee filter. Or, if you have a very steady hand, and great eyesight, you can simply pour the soaking liquid into another cup until you get to the “muddy” bottom. Many people feel that that’s the best way, because they think the coffee filter removes some flavor, but that’s your call. The soaked mushrooms are now ready to be chopped and used.

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Credit: FotografiaBasica/Getty Images

FotografiaBasica/Getty Images

Now, good, dried wild mushrooms are not exactly cheap. BUT they are always available, they last a long time in your pantry, and usually cost significantly less than their fresh counterparts (if you can even find the fresh!). And while they do not provide exactly the same bulk or texture as fresh mushrooms, I find the flavor they contribute far more appealing in most cases. Plus, considering the deeper, stronger flavor, you can always add some plain old white button mushrooms or creminis to bulk up your dish. I almost always use dried mushrooms in concert with some far less expensive fresh ones.

For any stew, or sauce, or soup where a deep, woodsy mushroom flavor is the goal, dried mushrooms will always work in your favor. Rich, earthy notes will be enhanced exponentially by the addition of both a small amount of the rehydrated fungi along with the liquid you used to bring them back to life.