Porcini or Boletus edulis is an abundant variety
of wild mushroom. Part of the Boletes family,
which includes other varieties that look similar
but lack the rich flavour of porcini, they have
a club-shaped stem and a spongy layer instead
of gills, topped by a round cap.
They are generally
a larger-sized mushroom and range in colour
from tan to dark brown. Porcini is the Italian
term adopted in South Africa, but they are called
cèpes in France, Penny Bun in the UK and
steinpilze in Germany. Porcini are known for
their meaty texture and nutty flavour.
Because porcini are picked wild rather than
cultivated, their availability is sporadic.
They come up during the rainy season: in
Mpumalanga and the Natal Midlands, between
October and May, and in the Western Cape,
from June to August.
How to choose
Choose porcini with stems that are firm
(not spongy) and caps that feel dry but velvety
to the touch (not sticky). Flavourful porcini
have a strong aroma that is yeasty, earthy or
forest-floor-like. Wild mushrooms should be
eaten as soon as possible, but they keep for
up to two days in a brown paper or cotton
bag in the vegetable drawer.
How to use
Don’t soak wild mushrooms in water. They
absorb water like a sponge and won’t cook as
well as a result. Instead, wipe them down with
a damp cloth. The spongy part under the cap
is edible when it is white, very pale brown or
yellowish. It has a wobbly texture similar to
bone marrow when cooked.
Remove it if it is
a dark greenish brown as it will make the rest
of the mushrooms slimy. Peel the stems and
cut off any woody bits. Remove the cap and
cut into slices and slice the stem.
To cook, add some butter and olive oil
to a pan (you could also add garlic). Add the
mushrooms and sauté. While stirring, season
with sea salt flakes and freshly ground black
pepper. Add white wine, chicken stock or water
and simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid
is mostly evaporated and the mushrooms are
tender. Serve on buttered toast, or stir through
tagliatelle or risotto. Adding wine or lemon juice
will lighten the colour of the mushrooms.
If cooked for too long or over too high a heat,
porcini taste bitter.
Dried porcini are widely
available and can be added to stews, soups,
pasta or risotto. Soak dried porcini in warm
water or stock for at least 30 minutes before
using. Strain the soaking liquid and add it to
the dish. The flavour of dried porcini is more
intense than fresh porcini, 20g dried porcini
is the equivalent of 240g fresh porcini.
Make a wild mushroom risotto
adding (soaked and chopped)
dried porcini with the onions
and folding through sautéed
fresh porcini towards the end.
Add finely-chopped dried porcini
to polenta before cooking it in
home-made chicken stock.
Sauté fresh porcini and serve on
slices of toasted ciabatta rubbed
Make a porcini soup and dot
it with truffle oil.
Add (soaked and chopped)
dried porcini to slow-cooked
10 things to do with porcini mushrooms