Your Ultimate Guide To Morel Mushroom Hunting

June 3, 2014

morel1Mycophiles, rejoice: We’re in the brief window of spring when morel mushrooms start popping up. Packs of fungus freaks will be scouring forests all over Minnesota in search of these delightful rarities. If you’ve ever tried a freshly picked morel, you know what I’m talking about when I say I’m excited.

I asked Steven Brown, executive chef at Tilia, to share some of his tips for hunting, cooking and enjoying these hyper-seasonal treats.

  • Make sure you can identify mushrooms. It’s pretty easy, but there is a “false morel”: Gyromitra esculenta. Aside from the outer visuals (they are not that similar) the most obvious thing is that a true morel’s stem is not hollow. One caveat should trump all others: when in doubt, throw it out!
  • If you find one, you will likely find more. They grow in an arc around the tree called a fairy ring.
  • Don’t put them in plastic bags and don’t leave them in your car – they will turn quickly. Use one of those reusable grocery bags or a paper bag.
  • Avoid picking mushrooms and leaving dirt on the stems – it’ll be easier to clean them later. Just snap off the dirty part and keep the rest of the stem. Repeat: Don’t put dirt from stems in the bag.
  • Resist putting them in a cooler with ice. That’s no good either. Cool and dry is what they like.
  • Look for dead oak and elm trees that have bark falling off but not totally bare.
  • If you go on private land, make sure you have permission. 
  • Wear pants and good shoes for hiking.
  • Make sure you check for wood ticks.

morel2Cooking Morels

They like butter and booze – white wine, Madeira and Fino Sherry are favorites at Tilia.

Brush any grass, leaves or dirt off the mushrooms as you sort them. Cut the mushrooms in half lengthwise. Wash the mushrooms in lightly salted and acidulated water to preserve them a little. Use enough water so that dirt and other things fall to the bottom. Gently agitate them with your hand

Pull them out (versus draining the water) so the dirt stays at the bottom.

Simple Morel Sauté

Use this as a basis for mushrooms as a side dish, on top of chicken or steak or with pasta, risotto or whatever you think it might pair with well.

This is enough for two or three servings, but you can scale it up. Just don’t use too much booze or stock – scale them in at 1:2 ratio if you got really lucky and are doing morels for 12.

4 oz. morels, cleaned (handful)
1T shallots, finely diced
2T butter (unsalted)
1 oz. Fino sherry
2 oz. chicken stock (preferably homemade or no-sodium)
2T butter (unsalted)
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon juice

Heat up a sauté pan over high heat and add the butter. When the sputtering stops, add the shallots and morels. Season with salt and cook until the mushrooms are browned.

Deglaze with Sherry and reduce until nearly evaporated.

Add the chicken stock and reduce by half.

Reduce heat to medium. Add the second amount of butter and swirl in to make a little sauce.

Adjust the seasoning. Use a few drops of fresh lemon juice and add the chives at the last minute.