Seeing morels pop up in blogs everywhere reminded me that I better do something with the stash of poached morels I had in my freezer. The box arrived around 2 weeks ago, all 6 lbs of freshly-picked perky morels. The aroma that lingered in the refrigerator where I stored them for a few hours was well – earthy which was lovely – but not so if you had to refrigerate a cream-frosted cake in the same refrigerator the next day. So plan your morel storage wisely for they do take up your fridge in more ways than one.
I have never heard of morels until 2 years ago. In the mid-spring of 2005, my friend J called me and said morels were in season. I asked her what they were so she patiently explained to me that they were wild mushrooms with an incredible earthy flavor and had a peak season of maybe only 3 weeks. Never having had them before much less cooked them, I asked her how they should be prepared. She said “Just CLEAN them very well and cook them in butter.”
The day of delivery arrived and the “hungry” hubby went to pick them up. I talked to J again that morning and she reminded me to “clean” them well. “Hmmn” I thought to myself,”these morels must be really muddy or gritty.” I called the hubby later that day and I asked him how our precious morels were doing.
He replied, “They are full of worms.”
“What ?!”, I shrieked.
The hubby said, when he got to J’s house, she was sautéing her batch of mushrooms in butter and there were white worms crawling out; she merely picked them off while she was cooking them. She offered a morel to the hubby to taste. The “hungry” hubby told me, “It was quite tasty” (I assumed he meant the mushroom and not the worms!)
So when I got home that day, I decided to deal with the morels right away. They are intimidating mushrooms … all 5lbs of them. Some of them were quite large. They have deep crevices so I had to cut them in half and soak them quickly in cold water with a bit of salt. A lot of worms fell off. I proceeded to poach them in butter and I still saw the worms trying to escape the heat. I almost made a decision never to buy morels again but after I had the first taste of one I quickly changed my mind. They were earthy alright. They make you dream of far away meadows where the sun breaks the mist to reveal the precious bounty of our good earth.
Such was my induction to the world of morels.
Last year, not wanting to undergo the process of cleaning the morels, I ordered only 1 lb. each of dark and blond morels. I wished I ordered more. There were hardly any worms in that batch. The blond morels were not as tasty as the dark ones so I made a mental note not to order them again.
So this year I had 6lbs. of dark morels and they were as fresh and as clean as the 2006 batch. It was a pretty nail-biting 2007 season. I waited with bated breath as spring snow storms plundered through the Midwest. I thought for sure morel season will be non-existent this year. But Mother Nature, though quite the tease, did reward us who hang on.
I am more confident now in dealing with this wonderful-tasting fungus. They need to be attended to the day you get them. I cut them in half (if there are any unwanted critters they most likely are in the center), put them in a colander, and plunge them very briefly in a big bowl of cold water mixed with a few capfuls of white vinegar. I shake the colander a bit to get out whatever grit might be lodged in its folds. Then I take them out to dry quickly. I then proceed to poach them for about 2 to 4 minutes in lots of butter. When they are cool enough, I pack them in appropriate-size Ziploc bags with a bit of the poaching butter, let them cool, and then freeze them immediately. For my 6 lbs of morels I probably used 1 ½ lbs of butter.
For my first taste of morels this season, I merely sautéed some shallots in butter, added the morels, then salt and pepper to taste. These accompanied a couple of Wagyu and Black Angus steaks. I’m still tingling from that combination! For some reason morels go so well with red meat perhaps because their fleshy texture is so much like meat.
They also go very well with pasta. I visited 80 Breakfasts blog earlier this week and Joey had her crispy sage and brown butter pasta. I followed her recipe (okay I forgot the lemon) and just added the morels which were sautéed first in shallots. It was out of this world delicious! Thanks Joey for the inspiration!
A site, I recently discovered is The Great Morel website. They have numerous tips for preserving what they call this “ephemeral rite of spring”. Next year, when I get my morels I shall make sure I’ll have more time to experiment with the preserving techniques detailed on this site.
So what is the moral of this story? It is very basic really. It’s the perfect example of try and try again. If I had been totally turned off the first time I had the morels that had all those worms to clean, then I will not be enjoying this beautiful batch this time around. I made a mistake last year by ordering only 2 pounds but this year I have learned my lesson. I will now have morels to enjoy for many months to come! Good food comes to those who plan and persevere.