Nothing says springtime luxury quite like the morel mushroom. A favorite ingredient among chefs the world over, morels pop up all around Northern California from March to May. We love these flavorful fungi, and we always include them on at least one of our springtime menus at The Kitchen.
Morels are small and conical, possessing a ridged flesh in a sort of honeycombed pattern. Often found in white, yellow, gray and black, they vary greatly in shape, color and size. With a meaty texture and an earthy, nutty flavor, this prized mushroom is highly sought after by professional mushroom hunters due to their popularity in professional kitchens and their high price, but they are also just plain fun to find and delicious to eat for the amateur forager and home cook.
Found most abundantly on disturbed, recently cleared or burned ground under trees, and often after a rain, morels can be a challenge to pin down as they move around from year to year and easily blend into the forest floor. And just because they were found in a certain spot one year does not mean they will appear there again. Many hunters flock to areas that have been recently burned by wildfire, where they feel assured they will find some of their elusive treasure rising up from the ashes in a springtime rebirth. Unsurprisingly then, morels are notoriously hard to cultivate, and thus far they are still mainly available to chefs through a network of foragers.
Chefs and home cooks love to use morels in all sorts of preparations. Stuffed with sausage, pureed in a bisque, sautéed in Madeira and poured over chicken, or served alongside its natural, seasonal partner, asparagus, morels are versatile and delicious. However, nothing brings out their flavor more than a simple sauté with good butter, maybe a little salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and voila!