Morel hunting and morel cooking are two different things, but for those
who excel at both it is difficult to say which is more fun.
To me the cooking--and dining on morels--may enjoy the slightest of
edges in this hypothetical contest. But like the old song goes about "Love
and Marriage," you can't have one without the other.
Some come close to waxing poetic about using morels raw in salads, not
knowing that many wild mushrooms have the potential for being somewhat
toxic--even deadly--if consumed raw, or even cooked.
Thus, it is a good idea to cook the various morel species, notwithstanding
the fact that the cooking agent (everything from butter to bacon fryings
[grease] to olive oil) enhances their taste. Then, of course, if
you use breading on morels, they can get downright delicious.
One morning last winter my tummy started telling me lunch time was coming
on and the first thing I saw in the kitchen freezer was a plastic sandwich
bag which contained about one cup of frozen small gray morels.
Upon opening the frig door my eye caught a couple of slices of fresh
side sliced about 3/16 (three sixteenths) of an inch thick.
The stage was set for a grand lunch.
I poured about three tablespoons of olive oil in my trusty iron skillet
(every cook should have an assortment of iron skillets) and added the fresh
side (each piece cut into two pieces). Fresh side, you know, is nothing
more than uncured bacon so I dusted it with salt and pepper.
When the pieces of side were starting to show signs of browning, I moved
them out to the perimeter of the skillet and placed the morels and an equal
part of sliced onion in the middle of the skillet. When the morels and
onion were starting to brown they were placed atop the pieces of side around
the perimeter of a plate, and two eggs were scrambled in the skillet.
Combined, with half a toasted and buttered English muffin, my concoction
was a lunch fit for any king.
Although the most popular method of cooking morels probably is breading
and frying them to a golden brown on both sides, there are many other ways
to prepare this delicacy for the table.
Still, no discussion of preparing morels for the table would be complete
without a detailed explanation of frying them.
I would want to be on record as saying that I have never looked with
jaundiced eye upon morels fried in any batter. But my methods are the best
I have ever seen (tasted).
I like morels that are no more than three or four inches, split in half
lengthwise and allowed to rinse in cold running water. As the container
overflows, foreign objects and the mites (small insect life) that live
in morels will be washed away. Then the morels are drained.
While the morels are being washed and drained, I roll good crackers
(wheat or multi-grain crackers are best) into a fine meal which is mixed
half-and-half with flour. A good way to roll the crackers into a fine meal
is to place them in a plastic bag, squeeze out the air, and roll them with
rolling pin or a strong round drinking glass.
With this part of the operation complete, the flour/cracker meal mixture
is placed on a large flat dish--a dinner plate or pie pan is fine.
In a cereal bow or a shallow-sided dish, I break eggs--the number to
be decided by the amount of morels to be fried. An equal part of milk (or
slightly less) is beaten into the eggs.
Then, with the bottom of the skillet well coated with melted butter,
olive oil, bacon fryings or a combination of such cooking agents, the morel
pieces are dipped one-by-one in the egg-milk mixture, rolled in the cracker
meal-flour mixture and placed in the moderately-hot skillet. Every
mushroom piece should be flat on the bottom of the skillet. After they
are sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper, each morel piece should be
gently flattened against the skillet with a spatula. Gently is the key
word. All you are doing is making sure each morel piece gets a chance
to be cooked.
As the morel pieces brown on the first side they are gently turned with
the spatula and the procedure is repeated. It may be necessary to add more
butter or oil at this time.
Frying mushrooms requires constant attention by the cook.
With a good green salad or slaw, no other food is necessary for a satisfying
meal, although steaks, chops--or even, a burger or fish filet--are not
Larger gray morels and "big yallers" come on toward the end of the spring
morel season (late in April, or early in May) and they lend themselves
to some fancier culinary applications, but the true morel aficionado will
find them no more satisfying.
Big morels, thanks to the cavity of the caps, can be filled with a great
variety of stuffings and baked or broiled, to be topped when done with
a cheese sauce, a simple gravy or a garnish of sauteed onion, crisp bacon
chips or even mixed vegetables.
But the big morels also can be sliced lengthwise into strips and fried
just as the smaller morels are prepared. Since they can be thicker, they
may require more cooking time. But when browned on both sides they are