Friday, May 29, 2009
A true gourmet’s delight!
…the forest floor reveals nothing unusual and then…
Every spring we watch the woods for the signs. About the time that the young ferns begin to unfurl and the wood anemones start to bloom, we know that it is time to start looking for the morels. It is always along our creek under a stand of Tulip Poplars that we hope to find them. At first, the forest floor revels nothing unusual and then we find the first one, then the second and as our eyes become more accustomed to looking for them, the easier they are to spot.
This is our second year to be able to share this bounty with Avanti Savoia’s owners, Doug and Ben Slocum. It is becoming a tradition for Ben and I to go “shroom hunting” each April and a tradition that I hope will last a long time. This season Doug actually found his own morels on his property to his obvious delight. He did however; bring them to me for a positive ID.
Being as we shared a post last year with you about morels, we decided to reprint it in part.
“Dry land fish”
Commonly known as the Morel mushrooms, they are also known locally as “dry land fish” and can occur throughout North America. The old-timers were well aware of them and prepared them usually by rolling them in cornmeal and frying them in hot fat. The black morels, Morchella elata seem to be the most available, although we are blessed to be able to find the yellow or white morel, sometimes called the “Honeycomb Morel.” These little gems can grow to be much larger than black morels and are astoundingly succulent.
They can be stuffed and baked, fried, grilled, and cooked a la crème, in sauces, flans, ragouts, omelets and as garnishes in a good many European classics. Although, available dried or canned, it is in their freshest state, prepared simply that we enjoy them the most. This is a true gourmet’s delight, freshly harvested wild morels! We prize this springtime ritual so much, that although choice fresh morels can fetch around $50 a pound this year, we only share them with friends and eat them ourselves.
…the best harvest ever…
Some years produce a generous morel harvest while others do not- it all depends on the amount of rain, when it rains, early spring temperatures, ground temperatures and probably other subtle conditions of which I’m not even aware. I can however, report on how much fun it is to hunt for them and how very delicious they can be. The ‘07 harvest was a bit scarce and ’08 was a good season, but this year (’09) has been the best harvest ever. I have heard “through the grapevine” that other mushroom hunters are experiencing abundant harvests, as well.
“You must be 100% sure of identification”
I also came across a world of useful information on the internet, especially a site entitled
www.thegreatmorel.com – This particular site has the most useful information that I’ve seen so far. They have a comprehensive collection of recipes. Not only lots of mushroom lore, but also identification hints and very clear information about the “false” morel (Gyromitra esculenta, Verpa, Hellvella and Discoiotis) which can be toxic. The false morels only vaguely resemble true morels, but we must insert a word of caution here before sharing a few easy recipes. I have been hunting selected wild mushrooms for over 35 years. I have received instruction from botany teachers from two different universities and field experience with a number of knowledgeable amateurs. I particularly remember the opening words from a retired University of Washington Professor. “Hunting wild mushrooms is a one hundred percent activity. You must be 100% sure of identification, a 99% guess can kill you,” he solemnly warned. Take this to heart! You must be very sure of your harvest! Do not attempt to identify wild mushrooms from a guide book. “Hands on” training is required. That having been said, here are some ideas for preparing fresh morels.
Cut off the “foot” of the mushroom just above the dirt line. Slice the mushroom lengthwise, lightly rinse and soak them in a solution of salt water for about 1 hour or less. This should remove any bits of sand or soil and dislodge any little critters. Make sure that after removing from the salt water that the morels are well dried before cooking. Some mushroom lovers prefer to forego the soaking, as they feel it takes away from the true mushroom flavor, but I still think that soaking is a good idea.
This is as easy as it gets and fabulous with a nice steak. Again, carefully dry the split morels and brush with one of Avanti Savoia’s extra virgin olive oils that have been seasoned with a little minced garlic, salt and pepper. Of course you can jazz it up with herbs, lemon juice, etc., etc., but do not cover up the marvelous fresh mushroom flavor.
Place the seasoned morels over hot coals and cook until they are just lightly marked. Do not overcook these babies and eat ‘em while their hot!
Beer Batter Fried:
Here is a basic recipe for Misto Fritto, classic Italian mixed fried vegetables. It also works great with any kind of mushroom. Also, if you are lucky enough to have fresh squash or pumpkin blossoms from a summer garden, this is also the way to cook them.
Ingredients for batter:
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup beer
2 cups all-purpose flour
About 3 cups oil* #19999 Avanti Savoia All-Purpose Cooking Oil for frying
Sel de Mer* #35021 (fine sea salt) to taste
1. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and beer.
2. Place the flour in a large bowl right next to the eggs/beer.
3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan until very hot.
4. Flour the morel pieces, shake off any excess, and dip into the egg mixture.
5. Shake off excess egg and begin frying a few at a time turning as needed to lightly brown. Remove with a pair of tongs or a slotted spoon and drain on paper salt, if desired and enjoy.
Sautéed Morel Sandwiches:
Clean morels as for other recipes. Simply sauté the mushrooms in the hot oil or butter, turning until tender. Place on a paper towel to drain and make a sandwich using toasted whole wheat bread, mustard flavored mayonnaise, fried bacon, and slices of fresh tomato.
NOTE: We usually serve morels with beer or a dry Riesling and have never experience a problem. However some mushroom guides do however warn of upset stomachs when morels are served with alcohol. Proceed with caution!