Porcini are one of the most exciting mushrooms to hunt, because they’re also one of the most difficult.
I’ll remember my first porcini hunt forever. I was at work in the kitchen when my mushroom hunting/disc golf partner sent me a photo of some mushrooms he’d run into, asking me what they were. When I saw the picture I told him to take them all! I knew that fresh porcini might be around in our area, but I’d never seen them myself.
I went with him to the spot the next day. The porcini were sitting on the side of the woods where our favorite chanterelle patch was, hidden, waiting in the grass next to the old oak trees. I’d read about them for so long but never picked them, it’s really an experience to see these guys growing, like something out of a fairy tale. It felt like every one we found was calling to us and put there just for us to find.
After taking a few pictures we left, making sure to not leave a trace of them since mushroom hunting has a way of making everyone secretive. Once you find something somewhere, anywhere, it feels like it should be your patch. I even cut out the buggy stumps and threw them in the dehydrator to make powder via the coffee grinder.
Unfortunately, we learned Boletes have a very short life cycle. The king boletes that we found were good for about 2 days, that’s it. After that they turn into maggot hotels, if their in the ground, or if they’re in your fridge. A couple days later you’ll go back to the patch and see nothing but a puddle of black slime on the ground where the mushrooms used to be, although you can always hope for some young buttons.
King Boletes like to be around oaks where I live In Minnesota, which is where the majority of people find them. I have the pleasure of knowing a few friends from Eastern Europe in the area though, and they prefer to pick porcini in areas with pine trees, which is more difficult to find from my experience. Even though it’s more difficult, it’s definitely worth it to hunt for porcini in pine, where I live, the pine porcini are much more resistant to bugs that tear the oak loving porcini to shreds. Pine porcini I’ve seen in the Midwest will also have a slight red color to their stem.
I’ve found them in the woods, but more often I find them hiding in long grass on the edge of the forest, so it’s a good idea to check around the forest peripheries while you are hunting for shrooms in the summer, especially on little slopes. My best patch is a slope of about 60 degrees, with long grass right on the edge of a chanterelle patch rich in white oak. They will start to fruit, from my experience, right before the Chanterelles start to fruit in the summer, then sporadically throughout the summer in other places as well, rain providing.
If you find some perfect fresh porcini you’re a very lucky person, throw them in a pan with butter and salt, slice them thin and eat them raw, whatever you do, by all means enjoy them in their fresh state since they’re an experience most people will never understand or appreciate.
Unfortunately, porcini and boletes in general are parasitized quickly by bugs, as in more quickly than any other mushroom I’ve ever found or cooked. Typically I have to dry these to concentrate their flavor and get around their short shelf life/bug damage.
A Species “Complex”
If you’re like me, the first porcini you ever cooked was probably dried from Italy. American porcini don’t taste like Italian porcini do, they’re much more mild when dried. The reason is that they’re aren’t the same species, technically. We don’t have one species of Boletus Edulis across the world, rather within the species are many sub-species, with mycologists continually discovering new ones.
That being said, it can be difficult to know sometimes exactly what bolete you have, and if that bolete is a porcini or not. The best advice I can give is that I have tried and true patches where I can expect them every year, rain providing, but I know some of them might have slight variations. There might be a slightly darker cap, or a slightly lighter one, or side by side one might taste a fraction different than another. At the end of the day, if you have a basket of “porcini”, relatively free from bugs, you won’t care that much about slight differences in species. We have many porcini, so enjoy the mystique while science allows it to last.
When picking Boletes (the safest of all wild mushrooms in my opinion) just remember not to pick any boletes with red pores, although I’ve never seen them in the Midwest. There’s a bolete that looks very similar to the Porcini and grows near it, it’s name is Tylopilus Felleus, and it is quite bitter, although not poisonous from my knowledge. How I can usually tell if a mushroom is a felleus is that it will be growing directly from wood, which king boletes do not, also it may have a pink hue to it’s pores. But, I know of one person who preserves them in maple syrup and puts them on ice cream!
King Boletes are good to eat fresh, but finding young, untainted specimens (Also known as “Bouchons” or wine corks) will be nigh impossible from my experience picking then. There have been a few times when I’ve picked perfect buttons, and I’ll provide you with some recipes for them, but it’s not easy to come across them small, firm and perfect. These and most other boletes also have really short shelf lives when they are fresh. You have only a few days to use them. Drying them is absolutely your best bet to retain and concentrate their flavor. Although they can definitely be pickled or stewed and frozen.
Porcini / King Bolete Recipes
Recipes I’ve made specifically for porcini or where they can be substituted
- Wild Mushroom Conserve
- Wild Mushroom Duxelles
- Dried Wild Mushroom Duxelles
- Fresh Porcini Butter
- Fresh Porcini With Radish Snaps and Peas
- Fresh Porcini Julienne
- Baby Chicken With Bolete-Wine Sauce
- Mixed Wild Mushrooms With Persillade
- Cream of Porcini Soup With Black Walnut Pesto
- Shrimp With Porcini Infused Soy-Brandy Cream
- Dried Porcini Infused Soy Sauce
- Porcini-Pike Bolognese
- Porcini Crusted Pheasant
- Shortribs With Dried Boletes and Root Vegetables
- Beef Commercial With Dried Boletes
- Dried Bolete-Cheese Fritters
- Homemade Ricotta Cheese With Dried Boletes
- Dried Bolete Gnudi Dumplings
- Porcini Cooked In Sour Cream