by Nancy Sweet, director, LLCC culinary programs and operations
Days are getting warmer, there has been a little rain, and it’s starting to feel like spring. And that means the time is ripe for morel mushrooms. Each year, the “morel season” varies based on current and previous weather conditions, but mid-April through the first couple weeks of May are often a great time in central Illinois.
If buying these locally, they can run anywhere from $30 – $60 a pound! Why are they so expensive? Well, morels are both elusive and fickle. They cannot be commercially grown, so foragers must wait for ideal conditions, hence setting the price based on market supply and area demand. With such a little window of time for these, you can see how the price can go up and up!
So, if you have the time to look for yourself, it can be a great way to enjoy a walk in the woods on a nice day. Morels grow well on the outskirts of woods where oak, elm and ash trees grow, but can also be found around dead or decaying trees, too. Often an area that has been disturbed in some way, such as a burn or a flood, can be good. However, often like a good fishing spot, hunters don’t always reveal their best spots. So, be sure to go for a hunt on public land or be sure to ask permission first.
Morels have a distinctive appearance. Their cap color ranges from whitish yellow to nutty dark brown and they are very spongy. However, if it’s your first time looking, going with an experienced partner can help you make sure you don’t pick any toxic ones. I recently read some sage advice on eating mushrooms that said, “All mushrooms are edible. Some only once.”
Since the mushrooms just came from the woods, it’s quite natural for dirt and bugs to be buried in their crevices. To clean the mushrooms, brush them with a pastry brush. Because mushrooms absorb water so much, there is some controversy on whether to soak or not to soak. To ensure all dirt and bugs are out, give them a soak in cold water for at least 30 minutes, but be aware the longer the soak, the more fresh morel flavor that leaches out. With these, the fresher the better, so plan to cook them soon after finding them.
Frying is certainly the traditional way to go for preparing morels, but I’ve also included a few other recipes that I think really let them shine. They are also great on pizzas, in quiche, and in macaroni and cheese!
1 pound fresh morels, cut in half longwise
3 cups flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1/2 cup milk
Brush as much dirt off morels as you can and then soak them in cold water about 30 minutes to 1 hour. Drain well.
Set up breading station. Divide seasoned flour between two shallow bowls. In a third bowl whisk eggs with milk. Set up station to start with drained morels, then seasoned flour, then egg wash, then seasoned flour, then a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
While breading mushrooms, heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan, like a cast iron pan. Fill oil up to come up about a ½ inch of the pan. Heat on medium-high. When the oil is hot, add mushrooms in batches not to overcrowd the pan. Fry about 3 minutes on one side and turn, let cook another 2 – 3 minutes until golden brown. Remove and place on paper towel-lined plate and season lightly with salt.
Morel Cream Sauce
1 pound fresh morels, cleaned, trimmed, and split in half lengthwise
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup chicken stock or broth
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
In a medium saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots. Cook and stir for 3 to 5 minutes or until shallots are tender. Add mushrooms and cook about 3 minutes. Sprinkle flour over shallots and mushrooms; stir to combine. Slowly add reserved 1 cup broth, stirring until smooth. Add cream and bring to a boil and let cook one minute. Recue heat to medium low and stir in thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and white pepper. Cook another 5 – 6 minutes or until the mixture thickens. Stir in 1/4 cup parsley. Great served over pasta tossed with some sautéed asparagus.
Adapted from Serious Eats
1 tablespoon vegetable
8 ounces morel mushroom, cleaned, trimmed, and split in half lengthwise
1 small shallot, minced
1 medium clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh juice from 1 lemon
1/4 cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock, or water
1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs such as chives, chervil, or parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in a large cast iron or stainless steel skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring and tossing occasionally, until well-browned, about 4 minutes total.
Reduce heat to medium-high and add shallots and garlic (if using). Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30-45 seconds. Add butter, soy sauce, lemon juice, and chicken stock or water and cook, swirling pan, until liquid reduces and morels are coated in a creamy sauce, about 1 minute. Stir in herbs, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately on their own or over steak.
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 www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.