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Apr 27, 2009

Chef’s Notes: Wild Morel Mushrooms

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Morels (aka Morchellas, Sponge Mushrooms, Merkels, Molly Moochers) are highly sought after wild mushrooms. They are renowned in many cultures for their smoky, nutty flavor. Despite being found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, they are still considered rather rare, and morel foragers guard their favorite hunting grounds jealously. Morel mushrooms tend to be in season in the Pacific Northwest between April and July.

Morels prefer forests where a fire has occurred as recently as the previous summer, and such spots are the best place to find them. However, they can also be found in unburned forests, often reappearing where they were the previous year, but apart from that trend nobody knows where to expect them (though some foragers swear they prefer growing by certain trees).

Morels are a wild product, and as such are subject to availability fluctuations due to weather variations. They have a very irregular season that is largely dependant on weather conditions, specifically moisture. Morels seem to love warm rains, which increase soil temperature as well as moisture. Dry heat, on the other hand, can bring the season to an early close.

Applications:

Morels contain small amounts of toxic helvellic acid that is easily destroyed with heat. Because of this they must be cooked for your customer’s safety. Morels are delicate, so gentle stewing, simmering, or sautéing is recommended. They can also be stuffed and/or breaded and deep fried. Morels pair well with most meat and poultry and love butter, sweet peppers and caraway seeds.

How to Select:

Look for mushrooms that are clean, and dry. Size will vary a lot depending on the variety of morels you are examining and when in the season you are buying.

NAIE sells several varieties of wholesale morels including (early season morels first):

Early Season Blond Morels
The availability of these fluctuates from year to year. These morels are rather small (between 2-2 ½ inches on average) and range from a pale yellow to a light grey color. Their shape is rounded, almost like a pear.

Black Morels
These dark-colored morels are large (2-4 inches) and pear shaped. They are meaty and thicker walled than many of the early morels.

Burn Morels (aka Conica Morels)
This is the type of morel most often found in forests where there has been a recent fire. Thinner walled than Black Morels, they are about the same size (2-4 inches).

Grey Morels
These morels are found very late in the season (around June) and range from 2 inches to 5 inches in size. They are dense and meaty with thick walls. These robust characteristics allow them to hold up well to the rigors of summer shipping.

Wholesale dried morels are also available, and while perhaps not as good as fresh, can be reconstituted and used to good effect.

Other Morel Varieties (Not Widely Commercially Available):

Valley Morels
These are some of the earliest available morels. They’re found in the foothills of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. These morels are quite small, with a Christmas-tree like profile (narrow at the top, opening out as you move towards the bottom). They tend to be dark black in color.

Cottonwood/Riverbank Morels
These morels are some of the largest available and range from 3-8 inches in size. Their large internal cavities make them ideal for stuffing applications. They can be either grey or blond in color.

 

Handling & Storage:
Store morels cool and dry, with room to breathe. The best storage is in a walk-in cooler in a ventilated bin, layered and covered with dry napkins or paper towels. They will last for about 10 days.

Pre-prep:
Morels possess a unique spongy honeycomb structure that can harbor bugs and dirt if they are not cleaned carefully. A mushroom brush is the traditional cleaning method, although they can be soaked for about an hour in cold, lightly salted water which, while effective, can result in some loss of flavor. Because they are hollow, morels are often cut open lengthwise to clean their inner cavities.

How to Buy:
Just give us a call at (800) 276-5955! We’ll FedEx overnight your order, fresh from the forests of the Pacific Northwest!

For information about some of our other foodservice products, visit our Chef’s Notes Collection.

One Response to “Chef’s Notes: Wild Morel Mushrooms”

  1. 1
    jonathan colvin says:

    It’s also good to be aware that even cooked morels can cause severe gastrointestinal distress in some people, especially if eaten in quantity and/or eaten with alcohol.

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