You could call morels -- common but hard-to-find mushrooms prized by chefs for their meaty flavor -- the fundamental fungi. But we actually think the hunt for these scrumptious ’shrooms would make a great reality show. Send contestants armed with garbage bags out into a forest after a batch of spring thunderstorms followed by a string of sunny days (the ideal conditions for the growth of mold). Have them return to the kitchen with their finds to cook up a masterful dish centered around the little hunted morels. Then, contestants serve guests while regaling them with tall tales of snakebites and coyote encounters yet refuse to divulge to them the secret locations where these little delicacies (which can set you back more than $40 a pound at a farmers market) were found. Of course, they’ll know once the show airs, but that’s the price of fame.
WHERE TO FIND YOUR MORELS
These five websites will tell you everything you need to know about hunting for your morels:
1. Northern Country Morels of Michigan, www.northerncountrymorels.com
2. 1 Morel Mushroom Lane, www.morelsandmore.com
3. Michigan Morels, www.michiganmorels.com
4. Mid-Missouri Morels and Mushrooms, missourimorels.blogspot.com
5. Morels World Wide, www.morels.com
BEYOND THE MOREL Since morels aren’t available year-round, here are some other tasty mushrooms that can be used in risottos, salads, stews, and soups.
PORCINI Once only available in Europe, this spectacular spore can now be found in the United States.
LOBSTER Yes, this mushroom is the same color as the sea creature, with a great meaty flavor.
CHANTERELLE Like morels, these mushrooms are found in the wild.
POMPOM This big, white mushroom resembles the cheerleader prop.
DOMESTIC Even chefs like this supermarket-vegetable-section staple.
WHAT TO DO WITH THEM
Morels are a versatile fungi, but they’re particularly tasty with eggs and cheese. This recipe from chef Shelley Young, founder of the Chopping Block in Chicago, is one of our favorites.
Morel and Asparagus Frittata (serves six)
3 tablespoons butter
½ pound fresh morel mushrooms, cleaned and cut in half*
1 small shallot, minced
½ pound asparagus, sliced
12 eggs, cracked and beaten
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup petit Basque cheese or Gouda, grated
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit . Heat a deep 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat and add butter and mushrooms. Sauté for approximately five minutes or until mushrooms just start to brown slightly. Add shallots and asparagus; sauté two more minutes. Mix eggs, tarragon, salt, and pepper together and add to mushroom mixture. Sprinkle cheese on top and bake until eggs are set and cooked through, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve.
*Tip: To clean morels, soak them in ample cold water for at least 30 minutes but for up to two hours if necessary. Rinse and lay out on a clean dish towel. Let dry for 30 minutes before cooking.