Puffballs are popping up all over my neck of the woods and I am almost loathe to share this post because anyone who knows me knows that mushrooms are my favourite meat. If it’s squishy and has spores, I will most likely fry it up and put it in my mouth. I will probably not share, which is why I’m reluctant to share this post all about puffballs because then you’ll likely try them and like them and then there will be fewer puffballs in the world for me to fry and put in my mouth.
That said, the wonderful world of social media has brought to my attention the fact that there are puffballs aplenty (more than I can fit in my mouth) in my part of the world and that there are possibly even more folks than there are puffballs who are curious about what these lovely ‘shrooms are all about and what to do with them should they come across them.
It just so happens that indulging curiosity typically outweighs my love of everything else (which is why I’ve had so many fungi in my mouth) and, as such, I’ve prepped a wee puffball 101 with a little help from my BFF who texted me yesterday with a “want a puffball?” as a rather large one stood in the way of her mowing her lawn and also because she knows that I want all of the puffballs always.
By “rather large” I do mean RATHER large:
In the land of puffballs, bigger isn’t always better. Bigger can mean overripe and really gross (seriously, overripe puffballs are really gross – they basically taste the way the dead animals dogs find to roll around in smell) and you never really know until you cut into them if they’re good or not.
I cannot stress enough that it’s important to get at prepping a puffball as soon as possible after picking one. These guys can maybe go 48 hours before going bad after picking. Maybe.
If you pick one and it doesn’t a) explode in a cloud of spores and, b) looks a bit like the following picture on its business end, you’re probably good to go:
An-y-way, puffballs don’t have gills like other mushrooms, but that the skin of the puffball is still nice and taught around the stem (such as it is) tells us that this guy is a pretty good candidate for putting in our mouths. We still don’t really know until we cut into it, but there’s no reason to not take this one to the next level.
Because a puffball doesn’t have gills, there is no need to clean it. Prep begins with lopping off that sphincter-stem-thing. To do that, use a good, sharp knife to slice about an inch off the bottom.
There will almost always be a little bit of grey or greying flesh around the stem, but everything else should be a milky white, like so:
If you look closely to the left side of the picture above, you can see that a puffball has a fairly well-defined rind. That stuff is not good eatin’ and needs to come off. You need no special tools for this, just use your fingers and start pulling the skin away until it is denuded.
Even though puffballs shrink a LOT in while cooking, there are few times when I can use up a whole puffball of that size in a single meal, so I’ve always an eye toward storage. Tossing goodly-sized pieces (1.5″ cubes or 1.5″x 3-4″ strips) of puffball in oil and frying or roasting, then freezing is my go-to because my kitchen can easily accommodate that. Dehydration is another common choice that I would love to get into one of these days, but I simply do not have the wherewithal for that.
I thought today was a bit too hot for roasting and opted to fry, instead. I was kinda wrong.
The thing is that it’s imperative to not overcrowd the puffball pieces because the end game is to get rid of a lot of the excess moisture they carry that can result in a weird, tinny flavour once processed. That means doing it all in batches, preferably using several pans. Dudes, it took almost two and a half hours to process this sucker when I could have chopped it all and roasted it all in about 20 minutes.
Hindsight is 20/20 and the rest. We’ve talked about my poor life choices before.
Point being; don’t overcrowd the pan. You want this:
Ok. There may have been some nibbling going on while I cooked, but that’s still a HELL of a lot of reduction and represents a good 3/4 of the puffball, but reduced to way less than half of its original footprint.
Eight to ten minutes with a little oil in the pan, flipping/stirring frequently does the trick.
So, then what, right? As I mentioned, I’ll be putting a bunch up in the freezer to use in soups and such later, but today, I made these little pesto and puffball pizzas:
These really don’t merit a proper recipe as I just used up some dough I had leftover from making pides the other day, rolled it out into 5″ bases, slathered those with pesto, tossed some fresh mozza on, then topped it all with fried puffball pieces and put ’em all in the oven at 400 degrees for 12 minutes.
Also, puffball poutine!
Maybe a recipe for that another time, but suffice it to say that I just added bits of puffball to a gravy and tossed it over McCain’s super fries and cheese and it was divine, but there are far better ways of going about that.
So, what else, right?
Good question! After they’ve been frozen it’s a good idea to re-fry the puffball bits lightly before adding them to dishes because they still hold a lot of moisture, like a lot of other mushrooms do.
Beyond that, they’re great in omelettes, tossed with olive oil, Asiago cheese, garlic, and fresh thyme and served over vermicelli noodles, added to all manner of soups (chicken and wild rice being a favourite if only to keep up with the foraging theme) and stews (any kind of blanquette comes to mind), added to gravies and other sauces, or used in mixtures to stuff peppers and such.
Like a lot of other mushrooms, freezing does tend to intensify their flavour, but I find them quite a lot subtler in flavour than lots of other mushrooms. Try not to overpower them, or you’ll lose the unique nutty and slightly citrusy flavours they bring to a dish. I think I will use the rest of mine in savoury turnovers/clafoutis.
A puffball’s BFFs are fresh thyme, crisp white wines, young Asiago, and butter.
Do you have any other questions about puffballs? Would you, could you do puffball now? Have you before? Do you have prep methods and recipes to share? All feedback is appreciated and I would love to hear about how others put puffball in their mouths.