Dusky secret: the power of porcini

July 15, 2010

You know those slightly unusual ingredients that give a layer of extra flavour and complexity to any dish they’re in?

Well, I think the porcini mushroom – Boletus edulis – is one of these, and certainly deserves its own entry on the essential ingredients page. Apart from being lovely to look at, they’re earthy in flavour, silky in texture, store well and have a cooking aroma to die for – which in my book makes them a perfect zing-thing pantry staple.

I’ve used both dried porcini and the frozen fresh variety, but the frozen seemed to have only about as much flavour as a good fresh mushroom, whereas the dried really pack a punch (if you are very keen, there’s a long discussion about the comparative flavours here).

The way to use the dried porcini, of course, is to toss them into a cup with a little water to rehydrate, and then chop roughly to throw into any ragu or mushroom dish. I use them in mushroom risotto along with other fresh ones, but lately I’ve also used them a couple of times in this very luscious duck ragu.

From what I can tell a typical Italian ragu is basically any Bolognese-type meat sauce for pasta, cooked as slowly as possible depending on the meat you choose.

I made this ragu by combining elements of this recipe from The Cook and the Chef (oh, how I miss them!) and this one from Mario Batali. Duck legs can be hard to find; I’ve made this both with fresh duck meat from the wonderful peeps at Feather & Bone and with confit duck legs from the butcher – either way it’s delicious. (If you use the confit, just shred the meat,  put it into the sauce after it’s been cooking for a good hour and warm the meat through. I left it for a couple of hours to absorb the flavour of the sauce.)

This is quite a simple but decadent dish to serve when you want something fancier than spag bol. And with the addition of the mushrooms, it becomes even richer and more velvety. What’s not to love?

Duck ragu with porcini

  • 4 duck legs and thighs, skin removed
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 2 x cans tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 30g dried porcini, rehydrated & chopped
  • handful chopped fresh field or other mushrooms
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Remove as much fat & skin as possible from the legs & discard, then remove meat from the bones & chop into small pieces.
  2. Heat oil & add celery, carrot, onion, garlic and some sea salt, sauté until translucent. Add the bones from the duck.
  3. Add wine, tomatoes, stock and herbs and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer.
  4. In a separate pan, heat some oil and add a pinch of salt and sauté the duck meat till lightly browned, and just cooked. Set aside.
  5. In the same pan, fry the chopped fresh mushrooms till liquid has evaporated, then add these and the chopped porcini and liquid to the sauce. Stir, then simmer uncovered for around 30 minutes or till the sauce has reduced by half.
  6. Remove the bones, add the duck meat and cook over low heat for another 20-30 minutes or until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick and rich. Add stock or water if at any stage it becomes too thick.

Serve with rigatoni or papardelle or other boofy pasta, plus grated Parmesan or Pecorino.

Have you used porcinis in other ways? Do tell …


  1. Timely posting, Charlotte. I bought two 10g packets of dried porcini on Saturday morning, but then couldn’t decide on whether I was going to make a slow-cooked beef ragu with pappardelle, or a slow-cooked duck ragu with pappardelle. You’ve swung me towards the duck with that recipe, as plans changed last weekend and I still haven’t ragooed yet.

  2. Hooray, we seem to have this synchronicity a little bit Jamie. Go the duck. I was thinking of you today as I looked around my raggedy ruined winter garden, wondering how yours is faring and thought, bet it’s lovely still.

  3. I’ve always been a bit terrified of dried things in cooking… I think I doubt, based on my notorious gardening Black Thumb, that I’ll actually be able to revive them. But perhaps this recipe has emboldened me… it sounds scrumptious.

  4. Although its summer here, and am not kidding 40+ degrees in the kitchen (enough complaining) still the thought of a good duck porcini ragu grabs my attention! Plus I am getting fresh ceps picked from the mountains in Hunan at the moment!
    And considering the “arctic” winter Sydney has been experiencing, I will give you another idea for your porcinis… Chestnut, porcini and Chorizo soup. Its very easy;
    Sweat down a mirepoix with plenty of rosemary and garlic, get some caramelisation going on it, then add some blanched peeled tomatoes, or a tin of if you don’t have the time, simmer this down until most of the juice has evaporated. Next add say 500g of peeled and chopped chestnuts and your soaked porcini’s and stir through. Add some white wine, and the liquor from soaking the porcini’s. Top up with some chicken or veg stock making sure the chestnuts well covered as they do absorb. Simmer until the the chestnuts have cooked out and softened, then add a couple of chorizo’s peeled and diced and simmer for a further 10 mins. Puree in a blender or with a stick until smooth and season with salt and pepper. You could let this soup down to a thinner consistency with more stock or water and cream to finish.
    You could also for serving, heat up the soup to the desired consistency then put a quenelle of whipped cream that has bean seasoned with ground porcini, sprinkle with parsley and lace the soup with lots of lovely olive oil!
    One other note is that the chestnuts could be replaced with chic peas!!

  5. OH. My. GOD. Hamish – this sounds unbelievable and as soon as I get a second I’m making this. Far OUT. Specially if chickpeas are an option! The whole peeling chestnut thing doesn’t appeal but then again, why not give it a shot – I do love that waxy richness they have.

    ooooh my my thanks for dropping by, though I can’t believe you’re thinking about such hefty things when in Shangers you are sweltering. And doctordi if this doesn’t get your juices going for the dried thing nothing will.

    And I’m sure your quenelles are top notch Hamish – I’ve only made them once and mine were crap (a quenelle, in case others don’t know, is a lump of something creamy turned with teaspoons into that nice elliptical shape you see in restaurants – or on Masterchef)…but I might even give this one a shot.

    • If you whip the cream, then place into a tray about an inch or so deep and let it set, then all you need to do is use one hot dry spoon and kind of run it through the cream (like those pornoesque ice-cream commercials) and you will form a lovely quenelle, that is only going to slowly melt (pornoesque style) into the soup anyway!!

      • Is it hot in here after all? *fans face*

    • Very true. Still wiping my mouth, but once I’ve recovered from Hamish’s chorizo chaser, I may well be able to moisten those mushies on the strength of drool alone.

  6. Nice posting C and H. Wish I had something delicious to add, but I do remember one odd little thing…
    Ages ago I saw a duck ragu recipe that called for the duck skin not to be chucked, but to be crisped under the grill, cut into strips and served on top of the ragu – like crackling.
    But I could only picture triple-figure calories and lacked courage…

    • Thats a great tip, I do the same thing when I serve cassoulet, but put the crisp skin through the accompanying curly endive salad so there is no escape from the duck!!

      • chomp chomp yum yum. Brilliant idea chaps.

  7. You can almost taste this dish by reading the recipe – sort of like you can taste Julia Child’s beef burgundy or beef braised in beer by simply reading the list of ingredients. I’m not sure I can get cut up duck, though.

    • I know Grad, it is hard and I generally try to steer clear of tricky ingredients for this blog – failed this time. I was telling someone else you could do this with chicken thighs, just only cook them for a much shorter time – but you could also add some more mushrooms and go completely birdless, and I think it would still be utterly delicious.

    • Also – I have done this with whole duck, it’s just a bit of palaver cutting up and removing skin and so on – you can make excellent ducky stock though if you chuck all the bones in and make a separate stock to use instead of chicken. Just there will be HEAPS of fat to get rid of, is the only thing, and save the duck breasts for something else. That would be my recommendation, though others here might be more proficient at dealing with whole duck; I am a bit of a novice in that regard.

  8. Hmmm, crispy duck skin. I like that idea. It’s a bit like when Homer Simpson orders deep-fried chicken with extra skin.

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