Wow, where to begin! These lovely Ascocarps known under many aliases such as: morchella, dryland-fish, hickory chickens, merkels and miracles are unlike any other mushroom on the planet in regards to its flavor profile. Mother Nature managed a wonderful mash-up of what many, including myself, look for in a shroom that separates it from garden variety status to truly gourmet. These delectable little morsels are simultaneously earthy, woodsy, meaty and succulent. They impart such a unique flavor, so unlike any other mushroom, I would rate them right up there with Truffles for how they can transform a dish from something great into something truly magical.
The biggest hurdle to overcome with morels isn’t in the preparation or finding a recipe; it’s finding them in the first place. Being notoriously fickle about when and where they grow, paired with a ridiculously short season, makes finding fresh morels extremely difficult to nearly impossible unless you harvest them yourself or are willing to pay big bucks online.
Though nothing can compare to a freshly picked morel, they can be had at reasonable prices dried. The trick is letting them soak just long without allowing them to get too soggy or mushy. If you under soak, the “bite” will be like that of underdone pasta, get it right and you will be rewarded with a re-hydrated morel that will rival a fresh one, ready to be sautéed with white wine, real butter and then savored as a true delicacy.
Waste not want not; always save your soaking liquid, de-glaze your pans, save the stems, broken pieces and even the dust if they were dried. It’s amazing what a little morel infused olive oil can do to a simple pasta dish or crusty bread, what a few stems, bits and pieces added to a braise or roast can do to instill a hint of something special, or how that soaking liquid you saved and used in lieu of canned stock takes a soup or stew to the next level.
Above all else, have some fun, be creative and allow your food imagination to thrive. If you haven’t had morels before do yourself a favor and give them a try, if you are a mushroom lover you will not be disappointed. If you hate mushrooms, this just might be the one that changes your mind about fungi.
Cream of Morel Mushroom
1lb fresh or re-hydrated Morel mushrooms
3 medium russet potatoes
2 cups milk
2 cups half & half
4 cups chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbs low sodium chicken base
1 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs butter
If using dried Morels, soak in 2 cups milk for 1 to 2 hours, reserve 1 cup of the soaking liquid for later making sure not to get any grit that will be at the bottom of the container you used. Once hydrated, quarter the Morels. Split leeks lengthwise removing base and hard green leaves, run under cold water to remove any grit/dirt. Dry the leeks and rough chop, split and quarter potatoes, add both to stock pot with 1 Tbs Olive Oil. Sauté over medium heat till leeks start to brown lightly, about 5-7 minutes. Add 4 cups chicken stock and thyme; lightly boil for 30 minutes uncovered allowing stock to reduce and leeks and potatoes to become soft. Remove pot from heat (add the cup of soaking liquid if you re-hydrated your Morels) then place in blender and puree, set aside. Add Morels to clean stock pot with 3 Tbs butter, sauté over low heat for 30 minutes. Add small amounts of wine throughout to prevent the mushrooms from browning or drying out. Remove mushrooms and set aside. Any remaining wine can be used to de-glaze pot. Return the puree to the pot, add the salt, pepper and chicken base. Bring pot to a simmer for ten minutes stirring occasionally. Add the sautéed mushrooms to the pot then add the half and half, serve immediately.