Of course I have heard of morel mushrooms, but, I had never actually seen one, let alone tasted one, until the day before yesterday! As far as I can see the only people who buy them are chefs for their rich patrons (and even then, they are mostly used as a garnish!) or, when those same rich people decide to buy them and create a dish for themselves? At prices starting at $39 per lb it’s not hard to see why the majority of us have not cooked up a batch of morels for our family and friends!
The other way to acquire a few precious grams of this fungus is to be given them for free by some industrious foragers. Foraging was something done out of necessity in times past (and still is today in some parts of the country and world), but nowadays it has become a trendy and cool hobby! Nobody really wanted to boast about finding their dinner in the fields and woods until today. Tonight it would be quiet acceptable for me to pop down my back steps, pluck a few weeds from around the house and present it as a salad!
The reason I salivated when I was given these mushrooms is because I was going to get a chance to cook and taste something that I couldn’t possibly justify ever buying, even if I could afford to. The only reason things like truffles, and beluga caviar and morels are expensive is because their seasons are short and they are very hard to come by! Taste of course does come into play, but sometimes, doesn’t something taste better because you know it was expensive? I will admit to being a little squeamish about trying good caviar for the first time, but, I made myself try it because something that cost a fortune must be good! At this point in my life I have discovered that expensive does not necessarily mean good quality or deliciousness. However, I did swoon a little over the morels because if it were possible I would gladly live on mushrooms for the rest of my life.
So, what was my Morel Dilemma? I bought some lamb and cream in anticipation of making a dish to highlight the mushrooms before I had actual seen them. When I got home there they were sitting on my counter top. They were so porous and spongy looking and completely hollow from the stem through the cap, making them very light-weight. I pulled out a few of my trusty cookbook sources to look for more information about them. I love to find out everything I can before I cook with an ingredient. It makes me feel comfortable about creating my own dish. I knew I could treat the morels just like a regular mushroom and not worry too much about methodology etc. I was just curious about where they grow, what is their season and, what they looked like? I didn’t look at any picture but read a description. The words “beware the false morel” made me sit up and pay attention. False morel? Did I have false morels? Was I just about to poison my whole family to death? The description said that the imposter mushroom looks more like a brain than the required “pitted cap” of the real deal? I couldn’t tell…brain-like….pitted-cap??? It also said they favor the same growing spots such as chalky, woodsy areas (which is where they were found). To my relief, it also said that they were not fatal, but could possibly make one very sick; neither option appealing to me.
With my kid’s well-being hanging in the balance I decided to store them in the recommended brown paper bag, loosely closed in the vegetable section of the fridge until I did a little more investigation. I also called my friend Tom who had generously shared his crop with me and told him to re-plan his menu until I felt sure of what we had (although, he has a stomach of steel and the mushrooms wouldn’t have made a dent!).
The kids asked about when they were going to get to taste a morel and I told them lightly that I didn’t know if they were genuine or not yet? My daughter (the other dramatic member of our family) completely panicked and was terror-stricken at the thought of me even considering eating them just in case! Her imagination must have gone straight to the part where we were all on our hands and knees writhing in agony before eventual succumbing, and drowning in our own bile! Well, that’s what her face said to me anyhow! There was no appeasing her. She ate our lovely lamb dinner suspicious that I had “slipped” them into the sauce. I tried to reason with her by saying “why would I want to kill you for crying out loud?” but, she went to bed non-relenting.
When I was alone with my husband we did a better search for comparisons and with the help of pictures we were able to clearly see that our mushrooms were in fact MORELS!! The next morning I showed both of my children the hard evidence and they agreed with me. They still said they were not going to try them, “just in case”
Last night I got to cook them. Our friend came over with a venison stew and my only jobs were to make a dressing for some watercress and to cook up the morels! I figured the easiest way to really get their taste was to fry them in butter with a little sea salt and possibly serve it mounded on a piece of toasted bread?
When I was young and it was mushrooms season where I lived in Ireland I would get up early and go out to the Parish Field with one of my sisters and go hunting for wild mushrooms. I remember the foggy air and the wet grass….we would then come home, fry them in butter and eat then right out of the pan, then, promptly go back to bed!
I decided to fry some little squares of bread in the buttery mushroom juice to serve. They were all I hoped they would be, and more. I am going to Tom’s house on Sunday and you can bet I will be out in the woods foraging with the best of them!
MORELS FRIED IN BUTTER ON TOAST (SERVES 3)
You will need: 5 or 6 morel mushrooms, 1 1/2 tbs unsalted butter, sprinkle of coarse sea-salt, 3 small squares of white Italian or French bread.
1 – Quarter the mushrooms lengthways.
2 – Put pan on medium/low heat and add the butter. When melted, add mushrooms and a sprinkle of salt and fry for about 8 minutes.
3 – Push mushrooms to the side and add the 3 slices of bread. Press down on bread with your spatula to flatten a little. Fry until lightly browned and flip. Press down and fry until browned.
Divide the morels between the bread and serve.