The Foodie Files: Putting Up Morels

By on May 26, 2015
If you come upon a cluster of morels, pinch the mushrooms off above the stem base and leave the root system in tact.

If you come upon a cluster of morels, pinch the mushrooms off above the stem base and leave the root system in tact.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The Italians have the perfect word for the tendency to gorge on certain foods when in season: scorpacciata. If you are a lucky forager with a haul of morels, that’s probably what you are doing right now. But before I share a few of my favorite morel recipes, we should address another happy problem.

Maybe you’ve collected more morels than you could possibly eat in one week. Now what? Should you dry them, can them, freeze them? First, you need to clean them. As soon as you get home, lay all the mushrooms out in a single layer on a flat surface. I use a baking rack placed over baking sheets.

Hopefully, you pinched them off above the stem and left the sandy root in the ground. If not, the morels will be coated inside and out with dirt and sand, and you haven’t done the morel population any favors. (Go back and read “Standing on Morel Ground” from a few Foodie Files ago.)

Shake off the dirt and sand, and pick off the stems and twigs. Discard any that are rotten or discolored with age. Tap the morels gently to evacuate any insects residing within the hollow stem.

Now leave the morels to dry out for a day or two — fresh-picked morels are often too soft and soggy to cook with and their flavor improves with age. After a few days, place the morels in a paper bag and put them in the fridge. They’ll keep like this for another week.

Are they clean enough to eat?  That depends on how much you dislike biting into grit. Some people are vehemently against letting water touch a morel, and instead would just cut them in half and gently brush off the dirt and bugs with a small, soft brush. If your morels are already clean, this is probably all you need to do. I don’t mind a little bit of sand in my morels, but I don’t like eating bugs and my husband can’t stand the mouthfeel of a gritty mushroom. At my house, we give them a short bath.

Just before cooking, cut the mushrooms into halves or quarters — depending on the size — and give them a quick rinse in a colander with cold running water. If they are very dirty and there are a lot of bugs, soak them in a bowl of lightly salted water. The salt water kills the bugs, or at least gets them migrating to the surface, and then you can rinse the mushrooms under cold water.

If you still have more morels than you can consume after one week, it is best to put them up for later. Morels can be dehydrated in the oven on its lowest setting overnight or until they are thoroughly dried. If you have a dehydrator, line up the morels on the trays and keep on low for up to 12 hours. Whether in the oven or in a dehydrator, keep checking in to make sure they are not getting too dried out.

Some people dry morels whole by threading them through the top of the stem with a needle and thread. Make sure the morels are not touching each other, and hang them in a cool dry place.

Dehydrated morels are great to have along on camping trips and in the pantry, but I think the morels lose quite a bit of flavor when dried. I prefer to freeze mine. Clean, dry morels can be frozen whole by putting them on a baking sheet over wax paper in a single layer. Once frozen, transfer the morels to Ziploc bags, squeeze out all the air, and put them back in the freezer. You won’t need to defrost these morels before cooking; just get a pan really hot and throw them in frozen.

My favorite method of freezing morels, however, takes just a little bit more effort, and has the added benefit of creating an incredible morel-rich broth. Place clean, dry morels in a saucepan and cover with chicken broth – homemade if possible. If you don’t have homemade chicken broth on hand, reach for a low sodium brand like Swanson, which has certified organic varieties. Bring the broth to a low simmer for a few minutes, then transfer to a bowl to cool. Once the broth-poached morels are cool, transfer the mushrooms to a snack-sized or sandwich-sized Ziploc bag using a slotted spoon. Pour broth over the morels until the bag is nearly full. Seal tightly and freeze on a baking sheet with the bag on its side.

Frozen morels are perfect for making risotto. Thaw out the mushrooms and separate them from the broth, squeezing them dry before cooking. Sear the morels in a pan until they are a bit crispy, then fold them into a risotto made with the morel-chicken broth.

Morel-smothered chicken is a simple dish—and perhaps my favorite morel recipe—using bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, slivers of preserved lemon, and the morel-rich chicken broth in the sauce. This recipe, as well as a great morel risotto recipe, can be found on Jackson Hole Foodie.

When your dewy, luscious morels are just picked, cook them very simply: seared in a hot pan with butter, salt and pepper. We’ll eat them like this every day with scrambled eggs or tucked into an omelet.

Another classic way to cook morels is to sear them in a pan with shallots and butter, then deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine. Once it cooks down, add a touch of cream and a handful of fresh herbs — chives, tarragon, and thyme would all be good choices. Serve the morels on toast, over a steak, or tossed with fresh pasta.

Always cook morels thoroughly; it won’t kill you to eat them raw, but it will make you sick. And don’t be tempted to can them using water-based canning methods. Errors in canning can lead to botulism toxin. Some people pressure-can morels with success, but I’ll leave that to the experts.

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About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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