the wild season: morels

Morels: one of my favourite things to eat... and clearly a treat with which I need more experience cooking.

I've had very little experience cooking with fresh morels. My favourite local speciality store has recently been a treasure trove of wild spring produce, including morels, so I impulsively brought a basket home. As with any other delicate and fresh speciality (especially those that are organic and wild), morels need to be prepared and eaten immediately.  This urgency caused me to jump in headlong, with mixed final results.

morels with thyme and cream//wanderaven

See how wild, and intricate.... and full of sand? Yeah, that was my largest stumbling block here. One reads that you should never rinse fresh mushrooms, so at first I didn't touch them with water, then while preparing the dish, I could see the sandiness, so I gave them the briefest of rinses with cold water and immediately and carefully patted them dry.

morels with thyme and cream//wanderaven
morels with thyme and cream//wanderaven

Next time? Next time I will soak them in water. For like, an hour. There's nothing quite like having a great preparation with such a fresh (and expensive) ingredient and being confronted with the gritty, sandy texture with every bite. Since I haven't actually tried this method, I cannot guarantee that it'll work, but any soddenness it may create can surely be somewhat dried out, and would be worth it in any case to avoid a sandy sauce.

I sauteéd a couple stalks of finely diced spring garlic and some plucked thyme in butter on very low temperature, to draw out the thyme. I added the morels and did the same, until they were softened. Some white wine, next, and simmered until the wine turned a delicious morel-brown and was somewhat reduced. Last, I added about 4 ounces of heavy cream and some ground white pepper and then simmered until warm and combined. White pepper because it keeps the sauce white, sure, but be sure to note that ground white pepper tastes different than ground black pepper and is definitely preferred with the cream and morels.

morels with thyme and cream//wanderaven

This was very nice with pasta and with some more fresh thyme and parmesan on top. What I'll change next time: cleaning the morels (obviously), and more sauce (more wine and cream), as it would be nice to better coat the pasta.

A couple notes about the perceived high cost of fresh morels:

a. Well, of course they're about $40 a pound: they're wild and require hunting. By experienced hunters.

b. I bought a basket of morels, which was a satisfying amount for two people for dinner. They cost about $10-12. They're a rare treat - not something you'll need to budget for on a regular basis (unfortunately) - and at this cost, about similar in cost to a decent cut of meat. I like my meat but the treat of wild morels trumps a nice cut of meat almost any time.

I hope to molest more morels before the season (always too quickly) dies away...