photo by Kim Sunée
Last summer seemed endless with the ongoing wildfires throughout the West Coast and the PNW and Alaska, but out of the ashes rose morel mushrooms, a delicacy that in other parts of the country can be pricey and rare. We have such an abundance—I have had friends from all over the state (especially around the Kenai burn) texting me photos of their 40+ gallon hauls; one friend, Teeny Metcalfe (with the biggest morel she’s ever found), even had some air-dropped to a family in Juneau! Whether seeking or preserving, here are some tips from various morel enthusiasts:
-Look for mushrooms that are fresh, firm, and dry (not water-logged). Avoid those that are shriveled, soft, wet, or spongey. Harvest by cutting, leaving the ‘foot’ undisturbed. If you pull it up by mistake, trim off the dirty end before placing it in your bag or basket. Pick out any worm holes, and clean, using a damp paper towel or a dry pastry brush. It’s best not to put dirty mushrooms in with clean ones (this will make your life easier when you get home), and avoid plastic bags as this promotes deterioration (by holding in heat and moisture) of the mushroom. If you use a bucket, drill some holes in the sides and bottom, this will help keep mushrooms cooler and last longer.
-The key to drying mushrooms without altering their wholesomeness and appearance is to minimize the amount of time exposed to heat; a dehydrator is optimal. If you don’t have a dehydrator you might be tempted to use your oven, but this will likely cook them before they dry, even on the lowest setting. I’ve never tried this, but a mushroom-harvesting friend swears by this method: Spread mushrooms out on trays and/or newspaper for 12 to 24 hours with a fan blowing over them before transferring to window screens for a day.
-Freezing mushrooms also works well. In the case of morels, you can freeze them whole in a single layer on a sheet pan and then vacuum-seal them together before freezing. Or they can be sautéed and then frozen in portion sizes.
As for cooking/enjoying them, Teeny’s been making cream sauces to serve with filet or halibut.
For a simple sauté: Trim off any tough, dirty ends of about 8 to 10 ounces of morels. If large enough, cut in half lengthwise. If they are damp from cleaning, pat dry with paper towels. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil or grapeseed/avocado oil (avoid butter in the beginning because of the water content). Add mushrooms and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, shaking pan every so often to loosen the mushrooms to avoid burning. Reduce heat, if needed. Add some dry sherry or marsala and let cook off, 1 to 2 minutes. Add a pat of butter and let melt into the pan; add 1 to 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce, some freshly-ground black or white pepper. Optional: stir in about 1/2 cup heavy cream or crème fraîche. Add freshly-chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic and shallot. Serve over toast, steamed rice, fresh pasta, polenta or along with grilled halibut or crispy chicken thighs. Or sauté and top pizza or stir into some whisked eggs for a morel frittata or omelet.
- 8 to 10 ounces fresh morels* (if using dried, pour boiling water over to cover, let sit 15 minutes and drain liquid, reserving liquid to add to the sauce)
- 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
- Freshly-grated nutmeg, to taste
- 2 tablespoons avocado, grapeseed, or olive oil
- 2 cups dry sherry or marsala
- 1 1/2 cup heavy cream or crème fraîche
- 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped parsley or chives or dill
- Rinse chicken and pat dry. Lightly season all over with salt and pepper and a grating of fresh nutmeg. Heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan or cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add chicken, skin side-down and let cook, without moving, 10 minutes. Check chicken and if browning too quickly, reduce heat slightly. Let cook another 10 minutes, checking skin every so often to make sure it’s browning evenly. Try not to move it around too much. When chicken is golden and crispy on one side, turn and cook another 20 to 25 minutes, adjusting heat, as needed and moving chicken around to ensure even browning. Chicken should be nice and golden brown and crispy on all sides. Remove chicken pieces to a plate. Remove all but about 2 tablespoons chicken fat from pan and reserve for another use (i.e. matzoh balls; roasted potatoes).
- Add sherry to pan and turn heat to medium-high and let cook 2 to 3 minutes, scraping bottom of pan to loosen up any good chicken bits. Reduce heat to medium and add morels and cream and soy sauce. Add chicken, nestling the pieces into the mushrooms, being careful not to get sauce on the crispy skin-side up. Stir and taste sauce, adding more soy sauce or pepper, as needed. Let cook another 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Add more cream or some broth if sauce is too thick. Stir in garlic, shallot, and parsley. Serve hot with steamed rice, hot cooked pasta, or grilled bread.