Where to buy dried porcini mushrooms? (KC)
I've usually found Melissa's brand all over the area, in many different conventional groceries. I bought some absolutely lovely, clean, large ones while in San Francisco over the Thanksgiving holiday, and have only just now used them all. Suddenly, they aren't in the usual markets? I tried Whole Foods, and while they carry them, the buyer says they're out of stock. Anyone have a suggestion where I can find them without paying an arm and leg (or shipping from SF)?
Try foraging for them yourself. They do grow in your area, and are not at all difficult to identify. None of the boletes (mushrooms with a spongy undersurface rather than gills) are dangerously toxic, and the few that can cause nausea and cramps are easy to spot and avoid. There is one wild bolete that closely resembles porcini that you need to avoid. It's not poisonous but it is unbearably bitter. It's easy to tell if you have one of these by tasting a small piece.
A problem with buying dried 'porcini' in markets like Whole Foods is that they rarely are the true porcini Boletus edulis (aka, 'king bolete' or 'cep'), but usually are one of the less flavorful but more abundant other edible boletes. True porcini typically are large mushrooms that are dried in slices, not whole. The undersurface of their caps (where the gills would be on other mushrooms) ranges in color from white to medium brown, but never should be dark brown or black. The flesh always is creamy white. This contrasts with the small dark brown dried boletes that I see sold as porcini in markets. While perfectly edible and tasty, these are not true porcini and will not have the same flavor.
Like morels and chanterelles, porcini from the east coast and midwest tend to be better than those found on the west coast. If you can find a place near you where they grow, not only will you be getting your porcini free, but you'll be getting better porcini than you could buy.
I always see them at The Hen House - or at least at my Hen House off 64th St. - up North. However, I can't say I've looked for them recently. I've bought some fresh ones there from time to time, as well. Funny you should bring it up - my husband just asked when I was going to make my Mushroom Risotto again. If there is a shortage of porcini in the KC area - he might have to wait awhile.
Oh well - the mighty morel should be making its appearance soon (if this recent cold spell didn't ruin it all!).