by Nancy Sweet, director, culinary programs and operations, Lincoln Land Community College
Do you know what is almost here? It’s getting close to perfect conditions for it. Warm days, rain, that feeling that spring is really here. It’s morel mushroom season! These elusive mushrooms are typical talk in central Illinois this time of year, and I have fond memories of them from ever since I can remember. My father and I would grab a couple plastic Wonder bread bags and head for the woods behind our house, walking for hours. Sometimes we came home with nothing and sometimes we came home with two full bags. Morel season here is typically late March through May with the right conditions. If you don’t have a special “spot” to search in, don’t worry. There are often roadside stands selling them, and they are even found in grocery stores from time to time.
Frying up a batch of morels seems to be the most “traditional” way to do them, but I think they work well in so many ways. Below is a recipe for fried morels, morels with scrambled eggs, and a morel and asparagus risotto.
For all morels, place halved mushrooms in a large bowl. Cover with cold, lightly salted water. Refrigerate mushrooms for about 5 minutes to loosen any dirt, pour off salted water, rinse and repeat. Crevices of the mushrooms can have dirt and insects in them. Thoroughly rinse mushrooms a final time and allow to drain on paper towels.
*1 pound morel mushrooms, halved, soaked in salt water, and rinsed and drained well
*2 cups flour
*1/4 cup cornmeal
*1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
*1 tablespoon salt
*1 teaspoon pepper
*1/2 cup milk
*Vegetable oil for frying
Mix flour, cornmeal, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until all combined.
Whisk eggs and milk in a medium bowl until combined well.
Pour oil into wide, shallow frying pan – a cast iron pan works great. You want enough oil so that it is about 1/2 inch deep. Heat on medium heat.
Set up a sheet pan with some paper towels layered into it to drain mushrooms when they come out of frying pan.
Set up breading station in a line –seasoned flour, egg wash, and a sheet pan.
To bread, lightly dredge mushrooms in flour. Shake off excess flour. Dip in egg wash to coat. Dredge again in seasoned flour thoroughly enough so that it has a nice coating and place on sheet pan. Continue until all mushrooms have been breaded.
Test oil to make sure it is hot enough. To do so, sprinkle a tiny amount of flour to pan to make sure it starts sizzling and frying up. If it doesn’t, increase heat. If it seems to have too much of a sizzle – as if it will burn up too quickly – turn it down.
Place mushrooms into pan to fry. Add gently and be careful so as not to splash hot grease on you. Do not overcrowd the pan as that can decrease the temp of the oil too much and the mushrooms will not brown up nicely and instead they will be a soggy, greasy mess. One layer is the maximum so you may need to do several batches.
Fry mushrooms about 2 minutes per side, or until a nice deep brown crust has formed. Transfer with tongs to paper lined pan and season lightly with salt.
Morels Mushrooms with Scrambled Eggs
*1/2 pound morel mushrooms
*1/4 cup heavy cream
*1 tablespoon butter
*1 teaspoon minced garlic
*1 tablespoon fresh chives
*salt and fresh ground pepper
Heat butter in a nonstick pan on medium heat. Add butter. When butter starts to melt, add garlic and sauté about 1 minute. Add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Sauté about 3 minutes. In the meantime, thoroughly whisk eggs and heavy cream. Add to pan and season with salt and pepper. Let cook until just set, about 3 minutes. Stir in chives. Serve.
Morel Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto
*1 shallot or 1/2 of one small white onion, finely diced
*2 tablespoons olive oil
*1 cup Arborio rice
*1/2 cup dry white wine
*6 cups chicken or vegetable stock, warmed on medium in sauce pot
*1/2 – 1 pound Morel mushrooms, halved, soaked in salt water, rinsed and drained well
*1 bunch Asparagus, hard ends cut off
*1/4 cup Sherry
*3 tablespoons butter
*1/2 – 3/4 cup grated Parmesan
*Salt and Pepper to taste
Blanch asparagus in a pot of salted boiling water for about 2 minutes or until bright green. Drain and shock asparagus in ice water to stop cooking. Drain and cut asparagus pieces into thirds and set aside.
Heat a heavy bottomed large pan on medium heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add shallot and cook about 3 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add rice and continue to cook another couple of minutes, or until rice starts to look a little bit “toasted”. Add wine and reduce until almost gone. Start adding broth to rice, about a 1/2 cup at a time. Add first 1/2 cup to rice and slowly stir in. Continue stirring rice until all the broth has been absorbed. As soon as the rice starts looking just a bit dry, add another 1/2 cup or so of broth.
Though you do not have to literally stir constantly as some risotto recipes call for, you do need to be pretty vigilant with your stirring. Continually stirring helps to create the creamy texture that you want in a risotto.
After several broth additions, start to taste your risotto. You want to season the risotto as you go along – not just right at the beginning or right at the end. So, keep tasting to know where you are with seasoning and also to taste the doneness of the rice. Once the rice has reached the proper consistency (which will take upwards of 30 minutes), stir in 2 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter has melted in, add the cheese. Taste again for any last seasoning.
To make the mushrooms, heat a sauté pan to medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoons olive oil and let heat up. Add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Let cook about 2 minutes per side. Add asparagus and sauté another minute. Add cream sherry and let reduce down to almost gone. Reduce heat to low and slowly work in the last tablespoon of butter. Taste for seasoning.
To finish, place a large spoonful of risotto on plate and top with big spoonful of mushroom asparagus mix. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in culinary arts and hospitality management and academic credit certificates in culinary arts and baking/pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit LLCC Hospitality and Culinary Arts.