Genus Morchella, Season Spring
This elusive mushroom is found in diverse habitats:
woodlands, especially those affected by forest fire
urban ares: hiding in plain sight along sidewalks, haunting abandoned railroads.
Morels appear after a spring rain, and disappear just as suddenly- a major frustration for mushroom hunters who say luck has a lot to do with finding morels.
smoky, nutty, earthy
According to The Complete Book of Mushrooms, by Peter Jordan and Steven Wheeler, “…Morels have a rich flavor that combines well with other rich ingredients such as eggs, cream, and Madeira.”
Butter & Cream
The rich, earthy flavor of morels is best suited to cooking in butter or cream, rather than olive oil. However, I recommend a peppery extra virgin olive oil drizzled over morel soup or pasta just before serving.
Morels have a delicate honeycombed texture and rich flavor- a welcome addition to omelettes or quiche.
Meats & Fish
Sauté morels with cream and wine such as Madeira for a sophisticated sauce to serve over chicken and veal. Roast morels in butter with salmon or poach in cream with halibut or sea bass.
A nutty, melted Gruyère pairs nicely with morels without overpowering. Rich and mild raclette is another option.
Garlic and shallot compliment the morel’s earthy character.
Hazelnuts and walnuts reinforce the nutty flavor of morels and provide a variety of texture in a rich dish where soft textures could become monotonous.
Spices & Herbs
The sweet spiciness of freshly ground nutmeg enhances the flavor of creamy morel sauces and egg dishes. Herbs such as tarragon, chive, and parsley brighten up the dark morel and bring thoughts of spring. Watercress is also a good springtime friend to the morel.
I was surprised to discover that the deep, earthy flavor of the morel benefits from the addition of an acidic ingredient such as lemon or crème fraîche. It’s important to balance rich, creamy dishes with an acid flavor.
Do you have ideas for other flavors that compliment morels?
What to Drink?
Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Champagne
In spring time, I pair white wine with the smoky, nutty flavors of the morel. The acidity of a crisp cool climate wine white cuts through the richness of dishes incorporating morels and refreshes my palate. A floral Riesling from Alsace, France could provide a nice contrast to the earthy morel. Both Oregon and Washington make Rieslings that would pair well with morels. I could also play off the smoky taste of morels with a smoky yet mineral and crisp Sauvignon Blanc like Pouilly Fumé from the Loire Valley in France. The elegance of sparkling wine would compliment any morel dish from pasta to an omelette. I encourage you to experiment and find beverages that enhance the food you cook.
In their book, Noth American Musrhooms A Field Guide to Edible Fungi, the Millers write this of dried morels: “…we find the taste is the same or better than fresh specimens, but is enhanced by drying so one can use fewer dried specimens in cooking.” Dried morels must be re-hydrated by soaking in warm water or milk for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Then the mushrooms and their soaking liquid should be drained and both can be added to soups, sauces, etc. Even a very small amount of dried morels provides a lovely broth and is capable of contributing flavor and visual appeal to a dish, so don’t let their price per pound scare you off. I’ve noticed dried morels are cheaper if bought in a spice shop where the clerk can measure out whatever amount you want based on how much you can afford to spend. Much better than a tiny package of overpriced morels at the grocery store.
Now that you’ve gotten to know morels, add them to your early spring pantry to distract yourself from spring fever. These unique mushrooms will bring a spirit of whimsy and variety to the dishes you’ve been cooking over and over again all winter. Discover your own recipes and flavor combinations, and make sure to share the adventure here at ladomestique.com!