If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating a morel mushroom sautéed in butter, you need to go mushroom hunting. Like, now. Or at least the next time they’re in season.
Where do I find morels?
Morels grow throughout most of the US (they particularly love the Great Lakes area — lucky people) and Europe. If any readers from other countries want to chime in with, “Yeah, we’ve got ‘em too!”, let me know!
More specifically, you’ll have the best luck finding morels in wooded areas. They particularly like dead wood, fallen bark, and not much grass or ground cover. I’m not saying you won’t find a random morel in a meadow, but you’re better off tromping through a forest with old wood and a sandy creek bed.
EDIT: Heads up, there is such a thing as the false morel. Some people get sick from it, some can eat them just fine, but the morel (heh) of the story is that if you don’t recognize it, DON’T EAT IT. True morels have conical, honeycombed caps that go most of the way down the stalk. False morels look more like brainy blobs on a stick. One is pretty, one looks like it escaped from a lab.
When should I start looking?
If you live in a temperate area in the Northern Hemisphere, get out your rubber boots and a bucket anywhere from late April to the middle of May. Definitely search the internet for the perfect times for your area!
For reference, I’m smack dab in the middle of the US in Omaha, Neb. I went out for my first hunt of the year the next-to-last week of April. The season will taper off as the weather gets warmer. Usually by the second week of May, I feel like I’m wasting my time.
So how do I actually do this?
This is a low-tech gig. You’ll need:
- Access to public land or permission from a landowner
- A bucket, basket, or bag
- Probably water-proof shoes
Walk slow and stare at the ground like you’ve never seen anything more fascinating in your life. You’re looking for a light brown/yellow-ish cone on a short stalk. The cap has deep grooves, kinda wrinkly looking.
If you find one, slow down even more. Step gently, turn over a couple leaves, and really look. You’ll probably find at least one more in the immediate vicinity. The size of your haul will vary on so many things that I can’t make you any promises. It’s anyone’s bet if you’ll come back with none or a hundred.
Oh, if you got permission to search on someone’s property, be neighborly and ask if they’d like you to leave them a bit of your findings. It’s a nice way to make sure you can come back to a great location in the future.
Now… what do I do with morels?
Don’t eat these babies raw. You gotta cook ‘em. Here’s how to prep them:
- I snap off the stems and throw them away. I just don’t like wasting my time on them.
- I slice all the caps lengthwise. You could leave them whole, but, uh, bugs can get in the caps sometimes. I like to be reassured there’s nothing inside my mushrooms.
- Rinse the caps thoroughly in a colander in your sink.
- Spread them on a towel to dry a bit before cooking or storing.
The simplest way to bring out the nutty flavor of morels is to fry them with butter, salt, and pepper in a cast iron skillet. Whatever you don’t plan to cook immediately, place in a large bowl, cover with a damp paper towel, and keep in the fridge up to a week.
If you’d like to knock someone’s socks off (or your own), I have a lemon alfredo recipe that’s pretty kickass.
Fried Morels in Lemon Alfredo
~6 morel caps, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 cups angel hair pasta
1 ½ cups half-and-half (or milk or heavy cream, your preference)
4 Tbsp butter, divided use
½ cup flour
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 chicken breasts (optional), butterflied or cubed
1 cup of snow peas (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Start water boiling for the pasta, about a quart. Melt 2 Tbsp of butter in a cast iron skillet (my preference — any frying pan is fine). In separate batches, fry the chicken, the snow peas, and finally the morels, adding butter or olive oil as necessary to keep them from sticking to the pan. Remove the chicken to a plate when they just start to turn brown. Remove the snow peas when they turn a super bright green. The morels will take the least time to cook, less than a minute on a very hot skillet.
Angel hair will take roughly 3 minutes to cook at a boil. Drain and let sit in a strainer (angel hair is too fine for most colanders). In the newly empty pot, melt 2 Tbsp of butter. Make a roux by sprinkling flour in small handfuls until you reach a creamy texture. Stir in half-and-half, then stir in cheese until melted. Stir in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add chicken, snow peas, and morels, taking care not to add their juices. Spread over noodles, top with grated cheese, and serve hot. A glass of lemonade really makes the lemon in the pasta shine!