Writing this post about my favorite morel mushroom recipes is bittersweet, because morels are delicious but I have not eaten any in an entire month! Morels are great edible mushrooms, true, but they are very expensive and try as I might, I never manage to find enough to last me an entire year! However, with this year’s long and wet winter in North Carolina, I am confident that I will soon have enough morels in my pantry to stop whining and salivating about them (at least for a little while).
So hold onto your hats folks, here are a few fundamental tips on cooking morel mushrooms, followed by a few of the preparations I enjoy the most! Unlike many mycophile (mushroom-loving) chefs out there, I am not terribly talented in the kitchen, so most of my recipes are simple. Fortunately, morels are imbued with intense, meaty-buttery-mushroomy flavor, and so they really do not require a magic touch.
Before I begin, a quick note to newcomers to this blog: if you want to learn a bit more about morel mushrooms, their habitats, and species of morels that live in North Carolina, I suggest taking a peek at past articles on the subject of black morel mushrooms, yellow (or blond) morels, and morels generally. These posts should get you started on finding and identifying these beautiful little buggers!
Fundamentals of Cooking Morels
- Always clean your morels thoroughly! Morel mushrooms are some of the best edibles you’ll ever find, but there is one catch; their honeycombed caps can get full of grit, sand, and mud, which makes for less than stellar eating. You can mitigate this by cleaning them with a mushroom brush (or a small paintbrush if you don’t have a tool specifically dedicated to cleaning wild morels). After doing a perfunctory brushing, soak them for a while and rinse them freely. The morels really won’t mind; they’re resilient to being rinsed on account of their tough flesh, so you need not fear damaging them with water. It may be tempting to skip this soaking and washing step, but trust me, the time it takes is well-spent. One year, I found a batch of lovely black morels on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington state, and was so excited to cook them that I only soaked them for a few minutes and then got busy stuffing them with goat cheese, pecans, and spinach and putting them in the oven. Much to my dismay, the mushrooms retained so much sand from the banks of the river that they were nigh on inedible (“very crunchy,” my then-roommate quipped)! Ever since then, I have been very careful to properly clean my morels, and have never had a repeat experience with dirty mushrooms, even though I have collected morels from habitats rich in dust, grime, and grit, such as burn zones, sandy creek beds, and the like.
- Always cook your morels! eating raw morels can cause significant gastrointestinal distress, and no one wants that. The morel is one of those mushrooms that is sort of tough and rubbery in a good way, so they can take some serious cooking without becoming soggy, mushy, or otherwise unseemly. When I saute them with butter or oil in the pan, I usually hit them with medium to medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes, or until they turn golden-brown on the edges.
- Trim off bits that look discolored, but don’t get too slice-happy. Sometimes, morels start to get a little, shall we say, peaky. They can dry out in parts, especially on the cute little ridges of their caps. Also, they sometimes get little whitish bits of rot here and there. When you collect morels, it is best to find fresh, firm specimens, but this is not to say that morels that are a little dried out are anything to be concerned about! If you do find rot on your morel mushrooms, however, slice those parts off or discard the mushroom. Mushroom tissue gets necrotic pretty quickly (some species are worse than others, and morels are actually pretty resistant to rot on account of their tough tissue), and it’s important not to eat the bits that are no good. Basically, if you would not buy it from the produce section, don’t bring it home from the woods! However, again the difference between rot and dryness is significant, and if you find a morel that is a bit shriveled, collect it and give it a nice bath, it might come back to life for you in admirable fashion!
- Cut morels with care. Morels do not easily fall apart, but all their little ridges and pits are best sliced apart with some care; if you go all Iron Chef on them, you may end of having a lot of the ridges fall off in the little tidbits, which is a shame and waste of very tasty mushroom!
Morel Mushrooms, Dried and Fresh
Morels are amazing for so many reasons, and one of these is that they are equally good whether served fresh or after being dehydrated and reconstituted. As a matter of fact, dried morels are favored by some palates because the drying process intensifies their superior flavor. I sort of prefer them fresh, because they have more chew/crunch to them when I cook them fresh, but either way they’re awesome.
If you do decide to dry your morels, make sure to do so thoroughly; if they retain any moisture you run the risk of mold. However, since these mushrooms really do not have a ton of water content to begin with, you will probably be startled at how little size and volume you lose when you dry morels. In contrast to porcini mushrooms, which shrink significantly when dehydrated, morel mushrooms do not shrink too terribly much when dried.
If you elect to dry your morels, store them in an airtight container for future use. When you’re ready to cook with them, soak them in warm (not boiling) water for about half an hour. In this time, they will soften and stain the water a dark brown. Retain this soaking water and use it in whatever morel dish you are making; the water is exceptionally flavorful and should never be wasted! Some websites and cookbooks recommend soaking morels multiple times and discarding the water, but this is rubbish advice; the water itself is so potently morel-flavored, you can even save it and use it in another dish entirely if you want to add some of that that distinctive meaty-earthy-buttery flavor of morels in your food.
My Favorite Morel Mushroom Recipes
OK, onto (what I think is) the good part of this post. Here are just a few (of many) morel mushroom recipes I have tried in the past. They were all awesome. To be honest, however, I have yet to eat anything even remotely morel-related that wasn’t absolutely great.
Morels for breakfast: morel mushroom savory French toast
This recipe is ridiculously bad for you, but it’s so tasty I could not help but include it.
Ingredients: French bread, sliced to 1/2″ pieces, morel mushrooms, butter/oil, shallot or garlic (optional), salt, havarti cheese (or any other soft cheese you like), eggs, nutmeg (optional).
- Saute your morels in butter and/or oil (1-2 Tablespoons, depending on how many mushrooms you are using) for 7-9 minutes on medium-high heat. If desired, add a clove of minced garlic or a little bit of shallot to the pan before you add the mushrooms. Saute until golden brown, and add a little bit of salt to taste.
- Dredge the french bread in beaten egg sprinkled with nutmeg (if desired) and add to a heated pan with a little bit of butter/oil. Cook on medium heat until each side is golden-brown, 4-5 minutes each side.
- Slice a few thin pieces of havarti cheese (or other soft cheese of your choice) and place on the French toast. Place bread in the oven or a toaster oven for 2-3 minutes, just long enough to melt the cheese.
- Add morel mushrooms as a topping on your cheesy French toast.
- Serve hot.
Note: If desired, add a small blob of pesto sauce on top of the French toast before you put it in the oven. If you decide to do so, I would recommend skipping the small amount of nutmeg in this recipe. I sort of prefer the nutmeg over the pesto, but both are pretty darn good.
More morels for breakfast: morel mushroom omelette with fresh veggies and asiago cheese
Ingredients: 2-3 eggs per omelette, morel mushrooms, garlic powder (or fresh garlic if you prefer), butter/oil, white onion (or shallot), green and/or red pepper, grated asiago or another hard cheese, pickled artichoke hearts (if desired), salt, and pepper.
- Beat eggs. Add salt and pepper to the egg mixture and set aside.
- Heat 1-2 Tablespoons of butter or oil in a small pan. Add morel mushrooms, a little garlic powder, and a little salt. Saute for 5-6 minutes on medium-high heat, stirring infrequently (just don’t allow the morels to stick to the pan!). Add onion and peppers and saute for another 3-4 minutes or until onion becomes and a little browned, stirring frequently.
- In a separate pan, heat a some light oil and gently pour egg into the pan. Use a spatula to keep the egg from sticking. When the egg is partially cooked but still has raw egg on the top, add grated asiago cheese and 2-3 chopped artichoke hearts, then add the morels, onion, and peppers. Add salt and pepper if desired, the gently fold or roll the omelette up.
- Remove from heat when the egg on the bottom of the omelette is golden-brown or bright yellow, depending on your preference.
- Serve hot.
Morel and white wine sauce
This recipe is ideal for times when you want a simple morel sauce to use to top fish, meat, pasta, rice, or grilled tofu. I particularly like it with big wedges of tofu that have been marinated for a little while in a dash of aged soy sauce and a little plum vinegar, then baked until very firm and roasty on the edges. However, you can pretty much use this white wine and morel sauce on anything, and it’s great! This sauce also works really well when served on egg noodles.
Note: Thanks to Mushroom Appreciation for turning me onto this recipe! My version is just a little different, in that I skip green onions and replace them with garlic and shallot.
Ingredients: Sliced morel mushrooms, 3 Tablespoons butter, 3/4 cup white wine, 1 shallot, diced, 2 cloves garlic, minced, 1 bay leaf.
- Melt butter in a pan on medium to medium-high heat. Add morel mushrooms and saute for 4-5 minutes, stirring infrequently. Add shallot and garlic and saute for another 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are golden brown and thoroughly cooked. Using a slotted spoon, remove as much of the morel and garlic/shallot matter as possible. Set aside.
- Add white wine to the flavored butter in the pan along with the bay leaf. If desired, you can add a little extra garlic at this point (I usually do, but I’m a garlic fiend).
- Reduce heat to medium and stir the wine and butter mixture while it evaporates off. When the white wine has thickened due to evaporation/boil-off, remove from heat, remove the bay leaf, and add back the morel mushrooms and other ingredients.
Morel cream sauce
This is another recipe that is great on pretty much anything. I like it with seared scallops, baked or grilled salmon, pasta, grilled eggplant and summer squash, the list goes on and on. The first time I had this morel cream sauce, it was served with pork tenderloin off the grill. It was totally delicious.
Ingredients: Morel mushrooms, dried or fresh, 1 Tb oil, 3 Tb butter, 1 small minced shallot, 1/2 tp fresh thyme (1/4 tp thyme if using dried herbs), 1/2 tp salt, 1/2 tp ground white pepper, 1/3 cup white wine, 1 1/2 cup heavy cream, 2 Tb balsamic vinegar, 2-3 cloves minced garlic.
Note: If you are using fresh morel mushrooms, add a little extra cream and white wine to this recipe. This is one of those recipes where dried morels and their soaking water are actually a really good idea, because the recipe calls for some of the reserved soaking water. If you are using dried morels, use between 1/2 and 3/4 ounces of them, and soak them in 1/2-3/4 cup of warm water to rehydrate them. If desired, strain the soaking water before adding them to the cream sauce.
- In a saucepan, heat the oil and 1 1/2 Tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add the morel mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes. Add thyme, shallot, garlic, white pepper, and salt and saute and stir for another 1-2 minutes.
- Add the vinegar and white wine to the mixture of mushrooms, herbs, and garlic/shallot. Reduce for a couple minutes until nearly dry. Note: If you are using fresh morels, skip step 3, and do not allow the white wine to boil dry; instead, allow it to heat and boil for a minute or two, but not until it reduces entirely.
- Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of morel mushroom soaking water and simmer for about 5 minutes, until only a few tablespoons of liquid remain in the saucepan. Be careful not to burn the ingredients at this point and reduce the heat to medium if necessary to keep the ingredients from sticking to the pan.
- Add the cream and reduce for about 8-10 minutes. Add the remaining butter mix it into the sauce until completely melted.
- Remove from heat; add salt, pepper, or any additional spices desired.
- Serve hot on pasta, fish, meat, poultry, or anything else.
- Get your blood pressure checked (j/k).
Morels, stuffed and baked
This recipe is easy and fun, and unlike most morel mushroom dishes, most of the action happens in the oven, so it’s a little less demanding than those recipes that require the literal act of slaving away over a hot pan. Again, thanks to Mushroom Appreciation for the idea for this one; although I have altered it a little bit because I really fancy hard cheese, pecans, and basil, credit where credit is due, this simple stuffed morel recipe is awesome!
Ingredients: Fresh morel mushrooms, sliced in half (so they look like little boats), 1 cup ricotta or another soft/mild cheese, 1/4 cup grated hard cheese (like parmesan, asiago, or romano), 1 chopped shallot, 2-3 cloves garlic, minced, a couple sprigs of chopped fresh basil, 1/2 tp dried thyme, 1-2 shallots, chopped, 1 Tb butter, 2 Tb oil, plenty of fresh chopped spinach, chopped pecans, salt, white pepper.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Saute the shallot and garlic in a pan with the butter for 3-5 minutes until shallot is translucent.
- In a bowl, combine cheeses, basil, thyme, pecans, garlic/shallot/butter mixture, spinach, and nuts. Add a little salt and pepper if desired.
- Place morels (hollow side up) on a baking pan covered with cooking spray. Brush the sides of the mushrooms with a little olive oil, then stuff them with the mixture of cheese, vegetables, and nuts. Sprinkle with a little white pepper and salt if desired.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes until the mushrooms are golden brown (or dark and roasty if you are using black morels for this recipe).
- Serve hot.
Concluding Thoughts on Cooking With Morels
As you have no doubt guessed, there are a gazillion things you can do with morels, and they do amazingly well with cream and cheese ingredients. However, they are also just as great when you do something simple with them! One of my favorite morel snacks is Special K morels…I melt a little butter and toss it with my morels, dredge the mushrooms in crushed Special K cereal, and saute in olive oil. Then it goes on toast. This is just a slight modification from the classic preparation of Midwestern morels, which calls for pan-frying morels in butter and cracker crumbs. Sometimes, simple is best. If you are trying morels for the first time, I highly suggest just frying a few of them up with a little olive oil and salt, then giving them a taste, so that you know what they are like before you start drowning them in other amazing flavors!