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My Morel

My Big Morel - big deal

(I don't know why I'm having so much trouble uploading photos, but trust me, it's BIG, and it's MINE)


Look what I stumbled across between the rhubarb and the compost heap?! François could not believe it. It’s not that it’s so unusual to find a morel on our property, but it’s that he hasn’t had much luck this year here, and how could I have possibly spotted such a beauty before him?

I dried it. What else to do with one mushroom? It would make a nice omelette for two, but I was working, and alone at the time.

Unlike most ‘Français de France’, morels don’t excite me that much anyway. Sure, they are delicious, but there are so many other better mushrooms out there. François and I continually marvel at the demand for morels, puzzled by the intrigue surrounding them. What's the big deal? François refers to them as the ‘snob’ mushroom. Granted, they are indeed difficult to find in significant numbers locally - so perhaps, it is because they are so fussy and rare. Or maybe, it's because they have such a storied history in French cookery.  When the French love something, somehow that makes them oh so noble.  Les 'maudits Français' (said with affection) certainly like to regularly remind us of this rule, so it must be true.


Due to this hype that dates back centuries, and the fact that they are on every chef’s springtime menu here (from out west I guess), Quebeckers can't help but get excited about morels, and want to cook, even pick them themselves. Herein lays the problem, or at least a source for more unnecessary morel drama.

Morels need to be identified and cooked properly, as with fiddleheads and most wild things. But with morels, unlike many other mushrooms, a quick sauté may not suffice. Some books will say to boil them for 10-20 minutes first. I personally don’t see the point in that, why bother eating them once all the flavour has been leached out and boiled away. With gyromites and other ‘false morels’ this is absolutely necessary, which is why I do not/will not cook them. But I know chefs and mushroom freaks that have no fear, and swear by them, taking their chances every year.

Morels are slightly more benign, but probably due to their popularity, more people are cooking them (and not enough), and so the odd case of poisioning has been cropping up. I’m only speculating. We haven’t heard of any cases. However, as of this year, the ‘cercle des mycologues’ recommends drying morels for consumption, I guess, being a guide and reference, they are just being on the safe side. I understand that there is a potential toxin that needs a sustained boiling temperature, and there is always a possibility of infestation (worms), which is more gross factor than lethal. Dehydrating does solve that problem, but if you have good morels, and clean them, slicing them open in two (which we always do), you will see any potential critters.  You can give the morels a quick bath in cold water (some add salt), before drying, slicing and wiping. Once clean and inspected, if they are then cooked properly, all should be fine. I get the feeling this edict comes down to protecting the public and all idiots out there, instead of providing information and letting people decide. Like with raw milk cheese, some people choose to avoid it, others dig in with gusto.


Wanting to be smart and avoid any unnecessary morel drama myself, when I was leading a brigade and fresh morels were on the menu, I devised a method the cooks had to adhere to, to make sure the morels were being sufficiently cooked. Instead of letting them sauté, I insisted on a deglazing step, in other words, more of a braise. The addition of liquid (wine, water, broth -depending on the recipe) to the pan, which was then evaporated off, ensured the mushroom was boiling-hot in the center for several minutes.  Then when the liquid was evaporated, we would throw in a nob of butter, and they were just like sautéed, but I knew they were safe.. It so happened that they were tastier this way to boot, probably because the morel is a dry mushroom (not gorged with water like most), and so this complete hydration brings out maximum flavour.


From the market, we have seen how comfortable shoppers seem buying morels, but few know how to cook them. So, we started giving out cooking tip sheets. And we tell people about the cercle des mycologue and their recommendion of dried mushrooms too. Most people at our stall are adventurous types or have already cooked morels for years, so it falls on deaf ears. Deep down, I know morels aren’t more dangerous than driving on Jean Talon or eating American spinach or Thai shrimp, but I believe in information, and people making up their minds about what they want to eat or not. 


I think the best way with morels is in sauce. That way, there is no doubt that they’ve cooked long enough, and no flavour is lost. There is never enough to go around anyway with such pricey mushrooms, so this way, you’re also stretching the flavour. You can always mix in other mushrooms too for economy. Serve the sauce on meat, pasta, toast, anything. .



Morel sauce

Sauté with some minced French shallots in butter and/or olive oil . Let the morels brown a little. Deglaze with splash of wine, and then with a cup or so of broth or a little water. A splash of cream. Reduce. When the sauce is that saucy constistency and the morels have boiled down, add butter or not.. Season with salt, pepper, a touch of lemon or sherry vinegar, a shave of nutmeg. If using dried morels, rehydrate in warm water for 20 minutes and use this liquid in the deglazing step. 

Posted on Friday, June 12, 2009 at 11:11AM by Registered CommenterNancy Hinton | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

As long time morel hunters, we both dry and freeze morels. Their flavor is much more delicate when cooked fresh or half defrosted. As the Cercle des Mycologues recommend all wild mushroom have to cooked for 10 minutes to make sure all toxin are gone. I cook my wild mushroom on medium low heat to ensure they are cooked enough. When dehydrated the flavour of the morel is much stronger and less should be used in a dish as it can overpower the flavour of the dish. I sometimes add some to a roast chicken but I always sauté them previously.

That said it is one of our favourite mushroom that we like with veal or chicken dishes.
July 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMicheline Mongrain

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