Saturday, May 10, 2014

Recipes for Morel Mushroom Season

Saute these suckers in butter--can't miss!
Okay, so I know the season is almost over(at least in Kansas City), but I just have to make a quick post about these fabulous little gems!

A morel mushroom is a pearl of a fungus. They're so highly valued because the season is so short(a month at most, depending on the areas), and you can only get them in certain places, most times. They grow in specific, cool-ish woodland conditions, favoring dead elm trees and rivers and streams to flourish by. Kansas City has facebook pages and reddit threads dedicated to morel hunting! There are people that have their spots, their treasure troves, their caches--if you will--of places that they know morels grow. Some people make a living out of foraging mushrooms, travelling up the coasts and further north with the seasons, foraging and selling to restaurants, hotels, anyone that'll buy them. I've honestly toyed with the idea, but then I remember that I don't like ticks or bugs or the possibility of getting eaten by mountain lions or attacked by raccoons. Seriously, raccoons are assholes.
Scumbag raccoon

So, just what do Morel mushrooms look like? Well, it's funny you should ask...since we happened to get some in our restaurant recently! So there are pictures to be had...

They basically look like little, cylindrical brains on stems. Keep in mind that they are always brown in color with white stems, and they will always be hollow. There are things called beefsteaks and false morels that can and are poisonous, but these guys are pretty darn distinct, so it's not terribly hard to distinguish. These are the ones my restaurant bought. You can deep fry, tempura fry, roast, or saute these little buggers. If you're feeling especially luxurious, though, I'd add them to your favorite lobster chowder. Here's my favorite recipe, an adaptation of a fabulous James Beard Nominee's that I used to work for(it's only an adaptation because I can't remember the exact recipe):

Lobster-Morel Chowder

  • 2 lg white onions, finely diced
  • 8 lg cloves of garlic(it's about 1/2 a cup), sliced on a mandolin
  • 1 cob of corn, sliced free of kernels, with the cob part reserved
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 oz butter + 1 Tbsp of oil
  • 1 qt heavy cream
  • 1 qt lobster stock(you can usually find this in the grocery store)
  • 1/4 c cognac
  • Lobster meat(one small, chicken lobster per 2 people)(or you can just buy a 6-pack of tails), which has been(ideally) butter-poached and chopped
  • 1/2 lb morel mushrooms, rinsed and halved(chopped if they're huge monsters)
  • Salt n' pepper to taste
  • I didn't have a banana for scale. So there's my hand.
  • A fat sprig of thyme
Sweat onions and garlic in the butter until clear, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme to the pot, tied with butchers twine to the de-kerneled corn cob. This will act as an aromatic. Add the flour and cook on medium-low for about six minutes, to get the raw flour taste out. This will also help infuse the roux itself with the corn-thyme flavor.

Add the lobster stock, the cognac, and the corn. Bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer. I'd let it simmer for about 10 minutes before tasting for seasoning. Add in your morels, which you have THOROUGHLY rinsed at this point, I'm sure, as well as your cream. Remember to only cut them in half if they're large. If they're bite-sized-ish, let them stay bite-sized-ish! Morels are so unbelievably beautiful--why not let them stay this way? Let this cook for another 5 minutes or so, and then turn off the heat before adding your chopped lobster meat. Cover and let sit for another 5-10 minutes, letting the carryover cooking do the work for you. Once you're ready to serve, this would be a good time to go ahead and fish out that corn cob-and-thyme thingy with a pair of tongs. 

Another option is keeping your lobster meat warm in melted butter/beurre monte(this link will help) and adding it to order(as you're serving). 

I realize that your average home cook might not attempt this recipe, since it involves some relatively expensive ingredients and is kinda-sorta labor-intensive-sounding...but I promise you, it is worth it. 

But, seriously, if you just spent all day hunting these little buggers and just want something quick and delicious, try this quick-and-easy Morels with Roasted Asparagus and a Fried Egg recipe instead? It's beautiful, and tasty, and an excellent reward for all of your hard work.

Happy hunting, guys!

(And don't forget to bathe in mosquito-tick repellent. Seriously, I was picking those little deer ticks out of my clothes for hours.)