A Colorado black morel
You may think that spring is almost over, but here in Colorado, it’s still in high swing. I know this because it’s still black morel season.
On Friday night, my friend Christy and I, both members of the Colorado Mycological Society, headed out for a little personal foray. Friday nights are a great time to be in the mountains because there are so few other people about. For a few short hours, you can feel like you own the place. And oh, what a place to own!
After several hours of coming up empty, I decided to take a shortcut back to the trail we’d taken on the way down. As I walked uphill, I kept searching and suddenly I saw what I’d come for: the elusive black morel. Christy soon found another nearby, and that made one for each of us. Enough for . . . well . . . a snack. : )
Black morels are choice edible wild mushrooms. They have a very odd look of a sort of conical honeycomb mounted atop a fleshy stalk. Inside the cups are little sacs called asci that contain the spores of the fungus.
The asci of a morel mushroom. The cup-shaped pits of the top of the morel are lined with tube-shaped sacs like these full of the mushroom's spores.
They’re pretty beautiful on the inside, too. They are hollow, which means you can stuff them if you so choose.
From a culinary standpoint, the great thing about morels is that they are the most meat-like non-meat object I’ve ever tasted. At certain times they have tasted to me like bacon or steak.
The terrible thing about morels, from a culinary standpoint, is that they are not abundant in the wild in Colorado unless you’ve had years of experience hunting, know where to look, and it is a good year. Without a wild supply, you’ll be forking over $50 a pound for fresh morels at Whole Foods, and something even more obscene for dried.
In any case, a few go a long way thanks to their potent flavor, and if you are so fortunate as to procure any by whatever means, here are my favorite simple methods for cooking them.
The easiest preparation is to cut them into bite-sized pieces and simply saute them in butter, adding a teeny pinch of salt to the butter as it’s melting if the butter is unsalted. This is the way to go if you want to experience pure morel flavor and/or you’ve never tried morels before. It’s simple, foolproof, and quite good. This is the way I made morels (except for a brief experience be-cornflake coating and frying that didn’t work so well for me) until last spring, when I decided to try experimenting.
Morels have affinity for steak (and as mentioned, are very steak-like in flavor), so I tried to prepare mine as I might prepare a steak. I cut the morels into bite-sized pieces.
I chopped one clove garlic and melted one-half tablespoon butter (for one morel) in a skillet with a small pinch of salt and briefly sizzled the garlic. Then I added the morel and stirred a bit to coat in butter until the morel began to shrink as it cooked.
By the way, though I have not been able to confirm this, it’s probably a good idea not to inhale the fumes of the cooking black morels. Turn on your fume hood as a precaution.
Finally, I splashed the skillet with Amontillado Sherry to deglaze and cooked that down until it was about the right consistency, glistening, but not soupy or sticky. I imagine red wine would work well too if you didn’t want that touch of nutty sweetness that comes with Amontillado sherries.
Here is the final presentation.
Wait a minute. . . something’s not right.
Ah, that’s better. A free, fresh taste of the mountains on my Colorado table.
Anyone else cooked morels before? What are your favorite methods?
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