If you’re a mushroom hunter, even a beginner, you’re going to have excess shrooms, and that’s a good thing. But you’ll want, and need to have some solid methods for preserving them in your bag of tricks to make the most of your harvest.
Drying and pickling are my favorite methods. But, if you’ve ever had a big harvest, you may have asked yourself: “what’s the best way to freeze wild mushrooms?” Freezing can be a great way to preserve your harvest. Unlike drying and pickling mushrooms, there’s a lot of misinformation and weird opinions out there, so I’m going to try and set the record straight a bit, as well as share the methods I use. You should know though, if it’s your first time, that frozen mushrooms, wild or cultivated, will never be as good as fresh, and some freeze better than others. Ischnoderma resinosum and wood ears freeze like a dream, puffballs though? They’ll need extra love, and probably a layer of breading.
The Rule: Don’t Freeze Wild Mushrooms Raw
Maybe you know someone that swears by freezing wild mushrooms and they say they do it every year. Let me set the record straight here. Simply put, freezing will give you flaccid, soggy mushrooms. Why? The reason all has to do with what happens to water when it freezes.
When water freezes, the particles freeze, but more importantly, they expand, and that expansion will tear, burst, rip, and basically destroy anything that tries to stand in it’s way, although you can’t see it with the naked eye. This is why uncooked, raw, wild mushrooms are limp and watery after thawing. You experienced hunters might know that a few mushrooms that can freeze at night and thaw during the day, remaining unchanged for edibility purposes (wood ears and enoki, for example) but they’e beyond the scope of this post.
To Freeze Wild Mushrooms, Cook Them First
The most important sentence you’ll read on this page is that mushrooms should be cooked before freezing. Sweating mushrooms (don’t brown them) in some butter, lard or oil with a healthy pinch of salt will help to remove some of the water they contain. And, flaccid mushrooms aside, in my world freezer space is at a premium. Taking a whole clump of chicken of the woods or another large mushroom and just bagging and putting in the freezer is going to take up valuable real estate. Trust me, you have better things to do than argue with your spouse about what that giant orange thing taking up space in the freezer is.
My Favorite Method: Vacuum Sealed, Sous Vide Wild Mushrooms
If you’re a forager, you need to have a vacuum sealer. Now, I have mixed feelings about sous-vide cooking, since it can quickly turn into a crutch for young cooks, but preserving your wild mushroom harvest is one place where it is incredibly useful and indispensable for me.
Sure, you can cook your wild mushrooms, and then vacuum seal them, but portioning them after cooking, especially if you’re using a method that has a lot of fat or oil, which helps ward off freezer burn, can get messy. Portioning some wild mushrooms into a vaccuum bag, adding some oil, salt and herbs, then cooking and freezing means everything is completely contained, and nothing has to be done after the mushrooms are cooked.
Don’t Squish Your Mushrooms
Another bonus of cooking your mushrooms after sealing is that vacuum sealing raw mushrooms and cooking afterwords is more gentle on your harvest. Vacuum sealing cooked mushrooms on the other hand, especially with delicate species, can flatten, compress, and ruin them, especially if they’re small buttons, like chanterelles or yellowfeet.
Freezing Mushroom Duxelles
The tried and true space saver for the freezer is a classic mushroom duxelles. If I do freeze wild mushrooms, 99.% of the time this is how I do it. Freezing is probably the best way to preserve these for the long haul, since there isn’t any vinegar or high amounts of salt, and they’ll go bad relatively fast in the fridge. With freezing duxelles, you also don’t have to worry about any loss of texture, since the mushrooms have been cooked, and finely chopped. This is also a decent way to freeze puffballs, but prepare yourself for lots of dicing.
Portioning Duxelles in Ice Cube Trays
A great way to portion duxelles (and a lot of other things) is to freeze them in ice cube trays, pop them out, and put in a freezer bag. Make sure the freezer bag is a heavy duty one though, since portioning into cubes increases the surface area that contacts air, which, over time can be susceptible to freezer burn. Vacuum sealing the mushroom nuggets is a great way to save their quality too, especially in some of the vacuum bags that can be sealed, opened and re-sealed using a vacuum attachment.
Souv-Vide Frozen Wild Mushrooms
- Sous Vide Circulator
- 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1/3 cup Mild flavored cooking oil or lard
- Fresh herbs, especially thyme or bay leaves
- Clean your mushrooms well.
- Season the mushrooms with salt, then put into the vacuum bag with the herbs and oil.
- Seal the bag carefully, using the moist setting.
- Cook the mushrooms at 165F for 2 hours or until completely cooked.
- Immediately cool the mushroom bag in cold water, then dry and freeze.