People who love mushrooms usually have their own particular favorites. This is the case with morel mushrooms, and a large number of mushroom lovers adore their flavor.
Despite often being called “morel mushrooms,” morchella esculentoides or morels aren’t actually mushrooms, though they are fungi. Mushroom is still a convenient name for this species. Esculentoides means “like the delicious one,” which might go a long way to saying that this is a great tasting fungi and not just an edible one. They also grow in many places, from forests to lawns, though they have strict requirements for growth.
Morel mushrooms are one of the easiest to identify and one of the hardest to misidentify. The great forager, Euell Gibbons, once equated them to an arrow-shaped hollow bathtub sponge on top of a hollow stem. Indeed, they do rather have a distinct sponge-type look, rather than having caps many people are used to seeing with wild mushrooms, and the stem is hollow, as Euell said. No other mushroom has quite the same appearance. Even false morels are different, as they look more like brains on a tiny stem, rather than like a sponge.
Like so many mushrooms, the best flavor tends to come from fresh morels. Morels are also sometimes sold in a dried state or frozen, but a lot of people would much rather have the ones they picked out in the forests themselves. This is especially true in as much as dried morels in a supermarket may be exceptionally cost prohibitive. For the most part, though, these mushrooms are better tasting when they are fresh than when they’ve been frozen or dried.
Morels tend to not shrink up as much as more commonly used mushrooms, like buttons. This means that it can take fewer caps to give a great flavor to a meal. This mushroom can be be lightly fried with butter and salted to taste, as a side dish. It also goes great in sauces such as spaghetti sauce, and since the flavor tends to be more robust than with store-bought mushrooms, the sauces are often more flavorful. Morel mushrooms can also be used in nearly any recipe that calls for mushrooms, even simple fare like steak, onions and mushrooms. Hikers and other people who enjoy the outdoors might enjoy a morel cap raw, just lightly salted.
Additionally, morels can be sliced and batter fried, if a person enjoys mushrooms cooked this way. Many people like them in omelets. A probably even better way to prepare fresh morels is due to the fact that the tops are hollow and often quite large. Simply cook some ground meat with tomato sauce and desired spices, then put this into the cleaned inverted caps, sprinkled with a bit of grated cheese and heat in a medium oven for ten minutes or so. This was a favorite of Don Wimer, a wild mushroom gleaner in southern Oregon, and apparently his neighbors. He said, “It amazes me every time I get a bunch of large morels, not because I get them, but what happens next. I like using these for stuffed mushrooms. Every time I make them [stuffed mushrooms], though, it seems to be minutes before neighbors just start dropping by for a taste. I love it when they stop by, but some of these people are those I won’t see again until next morel season!”
Morels store surprisingly well. They can last a couple weeks in the refrigerator and can be either frozen or dried. In the case of freezing, simply saute the mushrooms, sliced or whole, in butter or margarine for about 2 minutes, over medium heat. Allow the mushrooms to cool, put them in Ziploc bags, seal them, label the bags and put them in the freezer. It can’t get a whole lot easier to do, nor does it take a lot of time.
Morels have a flavor that is considered to be prime by many mushroom gleaners. There are no fungi that look like a morel and there are few states where they can’t be found. They work in a great number of dishes and usually enhance flavors. Though they can be bought, they also tend to come up year after year in the same locations, normally in the spring and often following the melting snowline. Because of not having other mushrooms that actually look like them, this is one of the best wild mushrooms beginners can glean, many people might agree, and the flavor is certainly worthwhile to most people who like the taste of mushrooms.