Since we have already shared some of the basics of cooking with mushrooms (see our earlier post “Want to Cook Mushrooms Like a Pro? Start with the Basics.“), we now want to focus on the various mushrooms individually. This week we begin with the Morchella, or the true Morel mushroom.
Amongst the most highly prized of all mushrooms, Morels don’t look or taste like regular mushrooms. These honeycombed, capped mushrooms have a smoky-nutty flavor and aroma all their own which is favored by cooks worldwide. When in season, chefs tailor their recipes to highlight and preserve the natural Morel flavor. Morel mushrooms are affordable enough to be enjoyed quite often, but are also seen as a luxury ingredient for special occasions.
While researching Morels I found not only some really creative recipes, but also some interesting and humorous factoids about this visually stunning tasty tidbit.
Apparently, in parts of Kentucky they are known as Hickory Chickens while in parts of West Virginia they go by Molly Moochers. It is said that when a Morel is sliced lengthwise, breaded and fried, it bears a striking resemblance to fish prepared the same way, hence the name “Dryland Fish”.
There is even a story floating around of a mountain family that was saved from starvation by subsisting solely on the flesh of Morels. As a result of that tale, Morels are sometimes referred to as Merkels or Miracles. True story? We don’t know for sure.
But another more common name of any true Morel is “Sponge Mushroom” due to its structure and texture that is similar to that of the Porifera (a scientific name for sponge).
Lastly, one of my favorite factoids: Black Morels are a favorite of the grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park. Who knew they had such good taste?
Morels tend to grow abundantly in forests that have previously been burned out due to fires. What I found interesting is that the areas which were affected by moderate-intensity fires are reported to produce the largest crop of Morels rather than that of a lower or higher intensity fire. The commercial Morel industry is based on the harvesting of these wild mushrooms, as efforts to cultivate them have met with very limited success.
As we mentioned previously, mushrooms should not be soaked but rather washed with a damp cloth to remove any visible dirt and debris. This is especially true for the Morel, as extensive washing or soaking may lead to the ruin of its delicate flavor and in turn, require longer cooking times.
An effective method for long-term storage of Morels is drying. This allows for a much longer shelf life for the consumer and offers greater flexibility in distribution on behalf of the producer. Soaking the dried Morels in warm water, warm wine, or even warm milk will bring them back to life and prepare them for cooking. If you are looking for dried Morels, you can get them here.
As with many other mushrooms, Morels are a great choice for sauces, soups & stews, risotto and other rice dishes, pasta & noodle dishes, omelets, and more. They work perfectly in appetizers, side dishes or main courses, with beef, pork, chicken or seafood, and stand up on their own in vegetarian dishes. There really are no limits in what you can prepare with the Morel.
Mushrooms, including Morels, are a very common ingredient in varying types of pasta and risotto dishes. I took this opportunity to look deeper for other recipes that showcase the Morel in a different light. The following recipes intrigued me and definitely whet my appetite.
This recipe is definitely not for the faint of heart. It should probably be eaten in moderation if you are worried about your cholesterol due to the 6 tbsp. of butter AND 1 1/4 cups heavy cream. The recipe calls for 8 oz. of fresh Morel mushrooms but you would only need about 1 to 1.5 oz. of dried which are then reconstituted.
As this recipe makes 6 servings, it would make for a great appetizer at your next dinner party. Be sure to tell you guests that the recipe is from the famed “Black Hoof” restaurant in Toronto. Saveur Magazine calls this a “refined version of liver and onions” and they are indeed, spot on!
Spring Paella with Shrimp, Peas & Morels, a la Andrew Zimmern.
As Andrew himself says, “I love paella.” And so do I. My personal appreciation of paella grew after travelling in Southern Spain a number of years ago. Since I have never found a recipe that I was able to pull off exceptionally well myself, my consumption of paella has been limited to dining out.
The recipe calls for dried Morels so there is no need to worry that it might come out different due to not using fresh. The recipe itself is very straight forward and I am optimistic that this one will be the one that changes my paella eating habits for good! All said and done, you will be serving your guests in under an hour from start to finish.
While the original recipe calls only for shrimp, Andrew thinks the addition of Spanish chorizo would keep the recipe “muy auténtico”. I would have to agree.
I found this recipe on the the James Beard Foundation sight, but the recipe itself comes from Chefs Pascal Coudouy & Reese Hay of “8100 Mountainside Bar & Grill” in Avon, Colorado.
As a long time fan of Buffalo meat, I was very excited to find this recipe which includes both Buffalo and Morels. It calls for fresh Morels, but if you don’t have any on hand, just reconstitute dried ones by soaking them in hot water for 30 minutes.
There are quite a few steps to this recipe: roasting garlic and cherry tomatoes, mixing the spice rub, grilling the meat and onions, sauteing the Morels and then finally plating the dish. But your efforts will be rewarded by a truly delectable dish.