cepe; king bolete
Porcinis are wild mushrooms with a meaty texture and a deep, earthy, woodsy flavor. In the United States, fresh porcini are a rare sight and always expensive. Pale brown to brown, they can range from 1 inch across to 10 inches and can weigh up to a two pounds (though usually less). Fresh porcini take well to grilling whole and sautéing, whether whole or sliced.
Dried porcini have great culinary uses, but are used quite differently than fresh and one really cannot be substitued for the other. (Think of the difference between grapes and raisins and you get the idea.) Dried porcini have a more intense flavor; they are rehydrated before being add to a dish in most recipes, where they provide a deep earthy-smoky flavor and a slightly chewy texture.
Other wild mushrooms, especially chanterelles can make a good substitution. Meaty shiitakes are another good option.
Fresh porcini have a short fall season. Look for firm, rounded caps with white undersides. Usually, the darker the cap, the more intense the flavor. Look under the cap: the tubes there should be white, tight, and firm.
Dried porcini are available year-round and are widely available. The best quality porcini will be made up of large, uniform-size pieces. Avoid packages that are very dark, which can signify age, and have tiny holes in them. Their aroma should be deep, rich, and inviting.
Give fresh porcini a gentle wipe off and cut away any spoiled sections. Both the cap and the stem are edible, but unlike cultivated mushrooms, they need to be cooked before eating.
Soak dried porcini in hot water (or other liquid) for about 30 minutes before using it; use about 1 cup liquid per 1/2 oz. of mushrooms. In many recipes, it's this liquid that's the main ingredient. Strain this porcini "liquor" before using it.
Dried porcini, kept tightly sealed in a cool, dry place can last indefinitely, though their flavor may become more intense. Refrigerate fresh porcini but use it as soon as possible for best flavor and texture.