ABOUT MOREL MUSHROOMS
morel mushrooms, the true morels, is a genus of edible sac fungi closely related to anatomically simpler cup fungi in the order Pezizales. These distinctive fungi have a honeycomb appearance due to the network of ridges with pits composing their caps. Morels are prized by gourmet cooks, particularly in French cuisine. Wikipedia
Scientific name: Morchella
Morels are a distinct looking mushroom with a cone-shaped cap and sponge-like texture. They typically grow between two and four inches tall. The caps stand erect and range in color from pale cream to almost black with a well-defined pitted texture. Morels are hollow and have a white- to pale cream-colored stem. They need to be cleaned, but otherwise, require very little preparation before cooking and are best when simply grilled or sautéed.These mushrooms are found most often in and around wooded areas throughout North America (particularly east of the plains up to the Great Lakes) and Europe. They most often grow around ash, aspen, elm, oak, and tulip trees; standing dead trees are good places to look as well. Morel mushrooms are extremely difficult to farm, though research into cultivating them has taken place at Michigan State University. There are also attempts in China to farm morels. However, there is a debate as to whether these cultivated morels have the same quality and taste as those growing in the wild. Because wild mushrooms are seasonal, foraged, fragile, and highly perishable, they can be pricey.
Like all mushrooms, morels have deadly imitators. In this case, they are known as false morels, which include a number of species that look similar but are poisonous. Unlike the edible mushroom, these fake morels have a reddish-brown to yellow cap that often hangs to one side, looking limp and disfigured. You’ll also notice a brain-like texture rather than a well-defined pitting. False morels are not hollow inside.
en paired with a fellow harbinger of spring, asparagus. A simple sauté of morels and asparagus is a seasonal favorite when they’re both piled high at the farmers’ market.
If you decide to try foraging for mushrooms, do so with an experienced guide. Mycological societies around the country offer free mushroom walks and mushroom identification seminars to help new wild mushroom enthusiasts get started.
Morels are delicate, so they should be handled carefully. They also need a bit more cleaning than other mushrooms. Shake them clean, swish them in cold water, lift them out, and dry. Don’t clean morels until you are ready to cook them. They will soak up water, get mushy, and go bad much faster than if allowed to await their fate with a bit of dirt on them.
Typically, morels do not require a lot of prep work once clean. The mushrooms can be cut in half or quarters; smaller ones may be left whole. Morels should be cooked; eating them raw can cause an upset stomach, even cramps. It’s also best to eat a moderate amount at one time.
Morels are particularly delicious when paired with a fellow harbinger of spring, asparagus. A simple sauté of morels and asparagus is a seasonal favorite when they’re both piled high at the farmers’ market.