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Cooking with Morel Mushrooms

M orel mushrooms are a source of passion and culinary wonder, inspiring recipes and annual spring festivals. They are known as a chef’s mushroom with an opulent, earthy flavor – and texture -- that builds wonderful, rich sauces. Yet, the flavor of the morel is so complex that it can be enjoyed simply sautéed in butter with a bit of salt and cracked pepper.

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Morel Mushroom Season

The first morels herald the arrival of spring, usually in late March.  Morels are found in diminishing quantities throughout the summer.  As with all wild mushrooms, much depends on the weather. If it’s a rainy spring, morels that have grown will be ruined by the moisture. Temperature and sunlight are also important factors in the development of morels.

Morel Mushroom Prices

To date, few morels have been successfully cultivated. Instead, morels are gathered painstakingly by individual foragers. These mushroom hunters await the first morels of the season with much anticipation, and have their “secret spots” which they won’t reveal to others. The price of morels depends on the weather, and how many mushrooms the foragers find. 

Where to Find Morel Mushrooms

Part of what makes morels so beloved is the fact that they are rare and hard-to-find. They like to grow in moist deciduous woods, near dead or dying trees, and in old apple orchards. Morels will not show their pointy heads until temperatures are above 60 degrees during the day and above 40 degrees at night. The pale, grayish or yellow color of the morel often blends perfectly with the dead leaves on the forest floor in early spring. Much is still unknown about these elusive mushrooms, which just lends to their mythical status. 

How to Clean Morel Mushrooms

Cleaning morels is tricky because of their honeycomb texture, and all the nooks and crannies in the cap. There may be uninvited visitors nestled inside the pits of a morel.

Trim the end of the stem off. If you notice any grit, a light brushing will be helpful. If extremely gritty, a quick rinse in cold water followed by immediate drying on paper towels or cloth will be necessary. Larger morels should be cut in half lengthwise to clean out the center of the stem. Leave smaller morels whole. Try to have uniform sizes in the pan, so that the mushrooms cook evenly.

How to Store Morel Mushrooms

The key to safe storage is to keep moisture away from morels; you want them cool and dry, so store them in the refrigerator. Place your morels in clean paper bags, about 8 to 12 ounces of mushrooms per bag. Limiting the amount in each bag keeps the mushrooms from crushing each other, and breaking the honeycombed caps. You can expect to store morels for up to a week, but they will lose quality and moisture the longer they are left uneaten. Check on the bag; if it looks wet, change it for a clean, dry bag. If one morel goes bad, remove it so it won’t contaminate its friends.

How to Cook Morel Mushrooms

Do not eat morels raw. With small morels, fry or cook mushrooms whole. Larger morels should be sliced in half, or fourths, before cooking. The nutty, meaty taste of the morel is complemented best by butter and cream, so sauté briefly in butter and finish with light or heavy cream. White wine can be used to great effect with this unique mushroom. Morels are wonderful with chicken, veal or pork. But most will agree that a fresh morel in season will make any meal just a little more exciting.

Morel Mushroom Recipes

Morels are often paired with other springtime produce like ramps, fiddlehead ferns, peas or asparagus. They are wonderful partners with pasta, risotto, and puff pastry. Try our Creamy Orzo with Bacon, Fava Beans and Morels recipe as a springtime side dish. Morels are ideal for creamy sauces and play well with veal, as our Morel Crusted Veal Tenderloin recipe proves. Morels are also wonderful with rabbit, beef, chicken and pork. Try morels on a quiche or with poached eggs. Simply sautéing morels in butter will give you tasty results, and allow you to appreciate the essence of the morel mushroom.  

Preserving Morel Mushrooms

The bounty of the season can be preserved to enjoy in winter meals. Morels dry well in a dehydrator or strung up like beads on a thread (use a needle to “sew” your morels) for a few days in a warm, dry place. Before sealing them up in a bottle or jar, leave morels in a paper bag for a few days to allow all remaining moisture to evaporate. Morels can be stored in a dry place to be enjoyed until next spring. Another way to preserve morels is to sauté them in butter and then freeze.