(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 18, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
If you’ve never been on a morel hunt, check out the article by Nanci Ottoson (ottoson). You’ll get a great idea of how special the whole morel experience is. Like hunting for roadside asparagus, it’s a much-anticipated annual event for adults and kids alike.
Ever since I can remember, my mother and grandmother would clean and cook morels the same way year after year. Soak in saltwater; drain on paper towel, dip in egg, dredge in cracker crumbs and fry in butter. While that method is tried and true (and very yummy), the $30 a pound morel price tag makes a person wonder… perhaps something more is out there for the morel.
The first time I tried a morel prepared in a different way than Gram’s, I was amazed at the taste. I couldn’t believe that I had missed out on such a wonderfully complex taste all these years. Thus began my search for new flavorful preparations. Here are a couple of dishes that give a whole new perspective to the morel than that of a fried morel.
Before you start cooking, you’ll need to clean your morels. You may search the Internet and question your friends on how to do this and you’ll get varying opinions about best practices for cleaning. Most likely you’ll encounter the soaking method. Here you split the morel in half and soak for 30 minutes in cold salt water. Any bugs and sand should separate from the morel with this method. Inspect the morel at this point for any stubborn bugs and remove them with a paring knife or toothpick. You’ll also want to trim the ends and any remove unsightly blemishes. Then lay the morels on paper towels to drain. If you are not going to promptly use these sweet delights, then you’ll want to store them for future use. To do this, take a paper bag and turn it on the side; line it with dry paper towels. Layer the mushrooms and towels in the bag; close and store the bag in the refrigerator.
As you research morel mushroom recipes, you’ll come across a second method of cleaning. Many cooks believe water damages the mushroom, creating a mushy and soft morel. These cooks will also tell you that as with strawberries, water diminishes the taste and should be avoided.
Personally, I prefer a combination of these two methods. Firstly, split and trim all of your morels. Shake loose any visible dirt and bugs; you might find a pastry brush useful for this step. Then give your morels a quick rinse and lay on a paper towel, sponge side down. Use another towel to blot the mushrooms dry. Store as above or use right away.
Now you’re ready to get cooking!
Morel Compound Butter
Here's a really simple and fun way to use a few extra Morels.
One stick unsalted Butter at room temperature
1/4 - 1/2 cup finely chopped morels
2-4 T Butter
Melt 2-4T butter in small pan. Add mushrooms and sauté until soft. When mushrooms are cool, mix with butter in a small bowl.
Place a large piece of plastic wrap on your work surface. Scoop out all the butter and place on the wrap in a log shape. Starting with the long side of the wrap, Wrap the butter into a tight log.
Freeze this until hard. When ready to use, make slices. This is excellent on beef filet or tenderloin.
Asparagus and Morel Sauté
Loaded with freshly picked asparagus and morels, here’s a wonderful recipe that screams spring.
4 oz. fresh morel mushrooms, cleaned and halved (quarter larger morels)
1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1” pieces
4 T. unsalted butter
2 T minced shallot
2 T flour (I like to use Wondra, but All-purpose will work)
1 c. beef broth
Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy skillet. Add shallots, mushrooms and asparagus all at one. Sauté these items until the asparagus is barely tender, 3-5 minutes. Reduce heat and add flour by sprinkling it over the entire surface of vegetables. Stir and cook for 2 more minutes. Add beef broth and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring constantly until mixture thickens, about 2 minutes.
Serve as a side dish or over angel hair pasta for a wonderful main dish.
(Pictured below left with a few crumbles of goat cheese.)
Morel Risotto with Spring Peas
This Morel risotto (or any mushroom risotto for that matter) is a favorite of mine.
3 c. chicken stock
1 c. uncooked risotto rice (arborio)
2 T. butter
2 T. olive oil
4 T. chopped shallots
½ cup fresh peas
8 ounces cleaned and quartered morels
Shaved Parmesan (optional)
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter with oil. Sauté shallots for 3 minutes. Add rice and sauté for 2 more minutes. Stir in 1 c. of the broth. Continue cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed. Add morels and 1 c. more of the broth. Continue cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed. Add last cup of broth and peas and stir until liquid is absorbed. At this point the risotto should be creamy and soft. If your rice is still too hard for your taste, add ½ cup water and cook until it is absorbed.
Plate and add shaved Parmesan.
If asparagus isn’t your thing, there are many other morel combinations that might please your palette. A morel and wine reduction with beef is always a savory combination, while crabmeat-stuffed morels are a true luxury. Let’s not forget how wonderful a mushroom cream sauce is over pasta. This year I’ll be trying a morel and cream cheese tart… yum!
This spring, enjoy the harvest with your favorite breaded morel standby. If your take has been bountiful however, elevate the mighty morel to a higher level with a new, luscious recipe.