What Are Morel Mushrooms and How Do You Cook With Them?
And why are they so expensive?
Welcome to the wild world of morel mushrooms. These elusive and expensive mushrooms are only grown in the wild, making them a hot commodity among chefs and mushroom enthusiasts alike. Each spring, foragers (aka mushroom hunters) hit the wilderness to harvest these decadent mushrooms for use in fancy restaurants or to sell at local farmers' markets.
How do you cook these delicate fungi? What do they taste like? Learn everything you need to know about these springtime mushrooms, including how to cook with them. Read on to find out, plus get top-rated morel mushroom recipes.
What Are Morel Mushrooms?
Morel mushrooms, or just morels, are a highly desired ingredient among chefs and mushroom enthusiasts. The reason? They're only grown in the wild, unlike farmed mushrooms you'll find in the grocery store (crimini, portobello, oyster, etc.).
Although there have been efforts to cultivate morels, they're extremely difficult to farm, meaning they must be foraged and harvested from where they naturally grow. Morels are usually found in wooded areas throughout North America and Europe. Warm and wet conditions are best for growing morel mushrooms.
Morels vary greatly in size and appearance. Their shape can range from oblong to bulbous, and their color from blonde to gray. They are easy to distinguish by their exterior, which resembles a honeycomb. The inside of a morel is white and hollow.
Like many types of mushrooms, morels have doppelgängers — but they can be deadly. Beware of false morels, which includes a number of species that look similar but are actually poisonous. False morels are reddish-brown to yellow in color, with a cap that hangs to one side. They're also not hollow on the inside, like real morels. If you're foraging for morels, be sure to do so with an experienced guide.
Morels are considered top-tier mushrooms, due to their depth and earthy, nutty flavor. They also have a meaty texture, unlike the more slimy texture of other mushroom varieties. For these reasons, even mushroom haters will enjoy morels.
Why Are Morel Mushrooms So Expensive?
So here's the catch when it comes to morel mushrooms: they're expensive. Really expensive. A pound of morels can cost upwards of $20. There's a few reasons for this:
- They're hard to cultivate. But you already know this. For this reason they are mostly foraged from the wild, meaning your morels were hand-picked by someone who traveled a great distance to harvest them.
- They have a short growing season. Morels are spring mushrooms that can be found between March and June, depending on climate, weather, and elevation.
- They're highly perishable. Because morels are hollow, they don't hold up well in transport, so getting them to the market can be difficult.
Where to Buy or Find Morels
One of the first signs of spring is the sudden sightings of morels from March through June. While you can always go on a morel hunt, odds are you'll prefer to buy them rather than find them. You may be able to find morels at your local farmers’ market or specialty stores. You can also find them online.
Fresh morels have a short growing season, so be sure to check back in late winter or early spring to see what's available. However, dried morels and frozen morels are available year-round.
How to Choose Morels
When buying fresh morels, look for mushrooms that are plump and without dry stems. Avoid mushrooms that are dried out, brittle, bruised, or softening as these will rot more quickly. The darker the color of the morels, the nuttier and earthier the flavor will be. If you're foraging for morels yourself, be sure to go with an experienced guide who can spot false morels.
How to Store Morels
Fresh, unwashed morels should be stored in a paper bag and used as quickly as possible. You can also store them in the fridge for up to a week, but this can also dry them out and alter the texture.
To prolong the life of your morels, you can dry them by laying them out in the sunlight and rotating them. Dried morels will last up to six months stored in an airtight container. When you're ready to use them, simply tap them with some water and wait. Pinch them a few times until they are plump and ready to use. Dried morels can also be frozen, and thawed for use in soups or purees.
How to Cook With Morel Mushrooms
To prepare morels, clean them with cold water and dry quickly before they soak up the water. Then, slice them up and cook them however you choose — keep in mind morels shouldn't be eaten raw as they can cause stomach cramps. It's best to cook morels simply so you can truly savor their flavor. A simple sauté with butter will help to best bring out the mushroom's unique qualities.
You can also add morel mushrooms to this savory wild mushroom sauce that's perfect for grilled meats. Fresh morels are put on display in this morel mushroom bisque. Morels pair beautifully with asparagus, another springtime vegetable that will shine in this asparagus and morel risotto. Some cooks even prefer to fry morels; learn how with this simple fried morel mushrooms recipe.
Health Benefits of Morels
In addition to their luxurious taste and texture, morels are loaded with all kinds of vitamins and minerals. They will generally contain significant quantities of iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin D, folate, niacin, riboflavin and a decent dose of potassium, magnesium, calcium, selenium, thiamine, vitamins E and B6. The fresher the mushrooms, the better the nutrient content.
They're also high in antioxidants, low in calories, and high in fiber and protein.
Types of Morels
There are multiple varieties of morels that appear at different times throughout the season. In North America, black morels are usually the first to arrive, typically in large colonies around ash trees. They're followed by yellow morels, which are often scattered alone or in small groups, making them harder to spot. And finally, late morels will arrive last. They have small, yellow caps and are the most elusive of all morel varieties.
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