I’d seen them at stores and other farmers markets priced at $50-60 per pound, and this lady was selling them for $38/lb. It seemed to me to be a bargain; never mind that I had no plan for how I’d use them.
I still cringed at handing over the money, thinking about how I would justify spending so much on mushrooms to my husband. I mean, these morels were more expensive per pound than beef tenderloin. What made these mushrooms magic?
Morels grow primarily in forested areas, often near streams, on fallen or dead trees or in forest-fire ravaged areas. Sometimes they like to grow in fruit orchards. These mysterious mushrooms are very good at blending into their surroundings and have to be hunted down. Foragers zealously guard their favorite gathering spots, keeping the details close to their vests like a cherished family recipe or the secret formula for Coca-Cola.
I’m not going to get into tips for finding them in the wild – if I mis-advised someone and they got horribly sick as a result, I wouldn’t want that on my conscience. I’m sure you understand. You can check other sites like this or this for foraging tips if you want; but I’m just going to assume that you’ll pick some up at a farmers market or grocery store, and leave it at that.
Morel mushrooms taste earthy, meaty and nutty. They’re best paired with other seasonal ingredients such as asparagus and ramps, and can be sauteed, roasted, fried, made into soups, served with eggs, pasta, bread, chicken or fish.
If you’re not going to use the morels immediately after purchasing them, they can be kept in a paper bag in the fridge for up to a week; the vendor I chatted with on Sunday suggested keeping them for 4-5 days at most. It’s best to use a paper bag rather than plastic, as the plastic bags can hold in moisture and lead to rot.
In my Internet forays, I’ve seen a couple of different suggested methods for cleaning morels:
1. Wipe them off with a damp cloth; don’t wash them in water or they’ll become soggy.
2. Rinse them briefly in water and pat dry.
3. Soak them in a bowl of salted water for a period from 20 minutes to a couple of hours prior to using.
Those instructions certainly run the gamut, don’t they. The point is to clear out any forest debris or little critters that can still be hiding on the insides. I came across several tiny ants in the morels I purchased. Don’t freak, that’s par for the course.
So I got on Twitter to solicit advice. I tweeted:
Got my hands on a pound of MN-grown morels, what to do with them? They are so precious, I have to make them count. Your thoughts?
Ideas included a simple saute in butter, fresh pasta with ramps and morels, and a morel and ramp souffle. I chose the easiest route – rinse the morels briefly, halve them and wipe out the insides with a damp cloth and saute them in butter, per Twitter advice I’d received from Colleen of Foodie Tots.
The sauteed morels in butter approach was super easy and super tasty; but what to do with the remaining mushrooms? I had about 10 ounces left, after using 6 ounces the previous night for the sauteed mushrooms side dish.
On Monday night, I decided to saute 5 ounces of mushrooms in butter again and use them to top some ramp-arugula pesto pasta with grilled chicken. Weeknight cooking is much more hectic for me and I immediately over-fried the mushrooms. So I had to prepare the remaining mushrooms and promptly overcooked them as well.
The final dish was just too much – the ramp-arugula pesto was so aggressively flavored that it overpowered the mushrooms and didn’t allow them to shine. I was very disappointed.
Sauteed Morel Mushrooms (Midwest Living)
Ten Easy Morel Recipes – includes crispy mushroom fry, morel wine sauce, homemade cream of mushroom soup, morel pasta, chicken and morels and more (Mushroom-Appreciation.com)
Fresh Morel Pilaf, Pan-Grilled Trout and Sorrel Sauce (Cook ‘Em If You Got ‘Em)
Scrambled Eggs with Ramps, Morels and Asparagus (Bon Appetit)
Morel Mushroom Bisque (AllRecipes)
Morel and Asparagus Sandwiches with Poached Egg (Martha Stewart Living)
Morel Risotto (Cooking Light)
Hearty Chicken with Mushrooms (Midwest Living)
Asparagus and Morel Quiche (Sunset)
Wild Mushroom Pate (Emeril Lagasse)
Plus Marx Foods has tons of links to other morel recipes