Monday, May 9, 2011

René’s Mmmm! Morel Mushrooms

My brother René lives in a heavily wooded rural region not far from the Canadian Rockies. The swings in temperature are extreme - as much as 20 feet of snow in winter, and blistering temperatures in summer. While summer’s forest fires are always a concern, their gift the following spring are the morel mushrooms that emerge from the newly enriched soil. These mushrooms are highly prized. Pickers descend on the woods to collect as many as possible to sell to local restaurants or gourmet food distributors, or to dry and store for personal use over the next year. René is an expert picker, usually returning from the hunt with a sackful.

Hunting and gathering stirs something primitive in us all. It certainly instills a sense of pride to say “I found this! I cooked this! We’re eating this!” I’ll never forget the joy of picking my first mushrooms only a couple of years ago in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains, where I found a variety as dense and meaty as steak. Named “chicken of the woods,” they were succulent, tender, and flavorful when I fried them in butter and garlic.
With mushrooms, there’s always that niggling worry: “Are they safe?” Some mushrooms can kill you, and others can make you wish you were dead. Read and heed: Know what you’re doing, or pick with someone who does. Identify mushrooms as you pick them, and identify them again before cooking  them. If you’re on the hunt for any mushroom, I urge you to to brush up on your mytocology with a pocket guide to field mushrooms. The following easy-to-follow articles are a great start:
In thinking about morels, I came across a splendid recipe for Wild Morel Cream Sauce in EAT Magazine, which celebrates the food and drink of British Columbia. If you aren’t able to pick your own morels, they’re increasingly available in fine food stores, but they’re pricey! This beautiful recipe requires only 20 grams or less than 1 ounce of dried morels - not a major expense. You’ll find it under:
Here’s what René wrote me on Sunday: “It’s morel mushroom hunting season here. I spotted one good patch a few days ago, left them to continue growing, then went and harvested them today. What looked like 14 morels at first count, ended up being 41, with many hidden from view under dead leaves. It’s been too cool and wet this past week for these to mature any further, so it was a good thing that I harvested them today. They’d already peaked, and waiting another day or two, they would have turned to mush!”
René dries his mushrooms on a rack, but knows a local chef who air-dries morels by threading a needle through them, stringing them up strand-by-strand. 
He continues: “To store them, I first clean each morel by removing all bits of dirt, (might also find a few little bugs!), then by giving them a quick rinse under cold tap water. Next, I air-dry them on a rack, or “power-dry” them in the oven on low heat. Although it gets smelly when we dry them in the oven, it’s faster than air-drying; I’m told a food dehydrator is the best way. 
“Once they’re fully dry, I keep them in a Ziploc bag. Freezing them in the bag isn’t a bad idea, either. If they have any moisture left, they could become moldy if they’re stored at room temperature. To rehydrate them for cooking, I put them in cold water about 10 minutes, then slice and fry them in butter and garlic. Yum!”

Hidden treasure: Seek and ye shall find! 

To the victor go the spoils: René’s freshly picked beauties!

René’s netted bag allows airflow as he picks

Dry in oven, on rack, or in a food dehydrator 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Want to find a long-lost favorite recipe? Want to submit one of yours, or simply leave a comment? Always happy to hear from you!