Morel mushrooms have a very short growing season, and only grow in the wild. Once the exclusive bounty of foragers, their earthy, nutty flavor has made morels the darling of chefs the world over.
What are Morels?
Morel mushrooms are a type of edible fungi that appear in North America and Europe in the early spring in the moist soil of wooded areas. The most common varieties are black morels and yellow morels, both reminiscent of a small honeycomb on a stem. Morels grow in the wild and must be foraged rather than cultivated, and mushroom foragers can be notoriously secretive about their caches. The labor involved in their harvesting, along with their short growing season (late March to early May) make the morel an expensive, sought-after seasonal prize.
Morels have an earthy, meaty flavor, with nutty or even smoky overtones. Some say the flavors are more pronounced in morels that are darker in color.
Where to Find Them
During morel season, fresh and dried specimens are often sold at farmers’ markets or specialty grocers. Dried morels may also be found year-round, both online and in stores. Expect to pay a pretty penny, though, because morel fans eagerly await their arrival in stores. Store them unwashed in the refrigerator, ideally in a paper bag or in wax paper. Just before cooking, they should be washed well to flush out the soil and even insects that might be hiding in their honeycomb-like ridges. The Spruce has more information on storing delicate morels.
As with any foraged food, care should be taken to ensure you have the real thing, not an imposter mushroom that can be toxic. If you decide to try foraging for mushrooms, do so with an experienced guide.
Cooking & Eating
Morels don’t need much prep other than a thorough cleaning, and maybe slicing. All morels should be cooked before eating, however, in order to neutralize an enzyme that can cause stomach upset.
Many morel fans believe they taste best when merely grilled or sautéed, or in a very simple preparation, like a seasonal sauté of morels and asparagus, or as an addition to pasta or risotto. Food Network posted the simple morel cooking methods from chefs Geoffrey Zakarian and Alex Guarnaschelli.
Dried morels will become soft after a water bath of about 20 minutes, at which point they can be used like fresh. Strain and keep their soaking liquid, which will infuse tremendous morel flavor into dishes like risotto or soup.
Along with the nutrients, such as selenium and beta glucan, found in many types of mushrooms, morels contain the highest levels of vitamin D in the mushroom world.