Morel mushrooms can be foraged in the Midwest for about two weeks in the Spring.
They are elusive and very difficult to find. Freshly foraged morels are worth their weight in gold to a foodie home cook or gourmet chef. Our local grocery store sells them for $60 per pound! These are some of the reasons morel hunters never disclose their secret spots. My brother Chris and I went hunting this season and found these delectable beauties thanks to our good family friend, Deborah Werner, founder of Earth, Wind & Flowers, Debbie’s knowledge of botany and a couple of secret locations in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin led us to a treasure trove of large beautiful yellow and grey morel mushrooms.
The growing conditions must be just right. Morels require the perfect combination of cool and warm temps, fresh rain, some dabbled sun, and a nutrient-rich soil to grow. They often grow near dead/fallen ash or elm trees. Morels tend to hide under new spring growth and are hard to spot.
It takes patience and good eyesight to hunt for morels off the beaten path. These mushrooms cannot be found by smell like a truffle. My favorite hunting tool is a hand-carved morel walking stick. Chris and I both use them. It helps on hilly terraces and to push plants aside.
A morel mushroom tastes more earthy compared to crimini or portabello mushrooms. The woodsy/earthy flavor, when combined with bubbling hot butter, turns them into something wonderful to eat.
To prepare morels for cooking, they should be soaked in cold water for a few minutes to remove dirt, debris, and any small bugs. Dry on paper towels. The morels are hollow inside. Cut them in half to be sure the look fresh and clean inside as well as out. The classic method to cook morels is to saute them in a hot skillet with butter and garlic and serve with grilled steak. Many veteran morel hunters recommend a simple egg wash and flour coating then shallow fry in butter until crispy. Both are delicious!
I wanted to try to something new this year and decided to try a Morel Mushroom Risotto with Madeira wine, a handful of fresh spring peas and lots of fresh grated parmesan cheese. The only herb I added was thyme from the garden.
I fast fried the morels in butter and set aside. Morels give off lots of moisture when cooked over high heat. Save the liquid to add to the chicken stock!
Make a classic risotto substituting red onion for the shallots and Madeira wine for the white wine. Toss in some minced thyme and petite peas. Once all the chicken stock, Madeira and mushroom liquid has been absorbed, finish it with lots of parm and another knob of butter.
- 8 ounces fresh-picked morel mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- 2 ½ - 3 cups chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons salted butter + 2 tablespoons for finish
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ large red onion, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup frozen petite peas, thawed
- 1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
- 1/2 cup Madeira wine
- 4 sprigs fresh Thyme, stripped off stems
- ¾ cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Dry the clean morels on paper towels. Cut the larger halves into half again to make bite-size pieces.
In a small saucepan on your stovetop, heat the chicken stock and let simmer while preparing the morels and rice.
Heat a non-stick sauté pan on the stovetop over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter and let froth. Add the morels, and swirl around to coat in the butter. The mushrooms will give off a significant amount of moisture after 2-4 minutes. Carefully pour the liquid into simmering chicken stock. (The mushroom liquid adds great flavor).
Continue cooking the morels over medium heat until the pan is dry and the mushrooms just start to caramelize. Add 1 more tablespoon of butter to melt into the morels and let cook another 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat and set the pan aside.
To make the risotto heat the butter and olive oil over medium high in a medium size enamel pan on the stovetop. Add onion and black pepper. Cook for 5 - 7 minutes until the red onion is translucent and starting to brown.
Add rice and stir to coat. Cook for 4 minutes or until the rice starts to toast. Add Madeira wine and stir until absorbed. Add ½ cup of hot chicken stock to rice at a time. Stir until each ladle is absorbed before adding another. Keep stirring and adding the stock until its used up. The risotto will start to get creamy. It will take approximately 20 - 30 minutes to add all the liquid. You may need more or less. Be sure to leave it runny at the end because the cheese will absorb more liquid. Each grain of rice should look separate (and not a mushy mess). The rice should also be al dente.
Add the peas, fresh thyme, and cooked morels to the risotto and gently stir in. Gently simmer 1 minute to blend flavors. To finish the risotto, add the butter and the parmesan cheese and stir in until all is melted and coated.
Note: If using salted butter and chicken stock, salt is not needed.