A Way To Prepare Morels

2020 seems to be a good year for morels. Lots of people in the countryside are bringing home nice morel dinner. Chuck it to the last two mild and nicely wet (but not too wet) winters and… to having plenty of time.

5 lbs of morels

I like morels well enough sauteed in butter and olive oil. But they always seemed a little unsubstantial to me, especially when compared to shiitakes. I have come up with a way to batch prep them right away when they are fresh (when let’s say 5 lbs find their way in the house at once). The prepped mushrooms can then sit in the fridge for a few days waiting for further cooking or preservation. One of the advantage of the technique is that the mushrooms remain toothsome, almost meaty. I can’t claim credit for it (there – after all – is not much new under the sun), but I don’t remember seeing it elsewhere.

First I halve the morels length-way, trimming away any bad bits. Then I quickly dump them in a bowl of cool water and swish them around to get rid of debris lodged in the head ridges or inside. Yes, I wash morels: even clean-looking ones can be gritty. I am not soaking them just washing them. I lift them from the water and drain them in a sieve, carefully collecting the drained water. I dump the washing water and the drained water under an oak tree in the hope to encourage loosened spores to settle… who knows? Morels 10 years down the road right by my back door? A woman can hope.

Then I heat up a skillet until hot. No oil no butter. Just an empty thick-bottom steel skillet. When the skillet is hot, I dump the mushroom, they can be a little crowded but not too crowded. If I have lots of mushrooms, I’ll have 2 skillets going at once to speed up the process. The mushrooms will steam-cook. Once the water they give up is nicely colored, I pour it off (and save it) and keep cooking the mushroom, stirring them occasionally with a fish spatula until they almost stick to the pan. Then I remove that batch, and start again with a new batch.

steam cooking morels in skillet
Steam-cooking morels on high heat with no oil nor butter. Pour the broth off

Dry cooking morels
Pour the broth off and keep cooking (still no oil no butter) until they almost stick to the pan

If you only have enough for a meal, now is the time to add to the pan butter and/or olive oil, shallots or scallions, and finish cooking the morels for dinner. Garlic & salt (maybe a hint of cayenne) only in the last few minutes.

Sauteing morels with scallions

If you have a large batch of mushrooms, then you keep repeating the process until they are all done. The mushrooms will keep refrigerated for several days until you are ready to finish cook them. The broth you use for soup, gravy or freeze for later.

See how those steamed morels keep their shape?

Then it’s fast food! Morels, chimichurri & skirt steaks will take about 15 minutes from start to finish.

Morels, flank steaks & chimichurri
Morels, flank steaks & chimichurri

Morels with pasta (there is just something to mushrooms, cream sauce & pasta) won’t take much longer if you use commercial pasta. Fresh pasta will take a little time to make, but they’ll cook in 3 minutes.

Morels & homemade fettuccine
Morels with homemade fettucine

And this year, I actually feel “rich” enough with morels, that I am trying to preserve a few jars with vinegar & oil – a technique similar to the Zucchini sott’olio that I like making in summer. I saved the now flavorful vinegar in which the mushrooms have simmered – it’ll be great to sprinkle on a pan of escarole or collard. The oil in which they are steeping will be used for cooking to add another layer of favor to a dish. So while it’s initially expensive to make sott’ollio, there is no waste.

Preserved morels

Happy morel hunting.

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