Thursday, February 21, 2008

Morels on the Brain

Hear that buzzing sound? Right now all across the country an army of zealots is preparing for the next campaign. Forget Obamomania—I'm talking about Morel Madness.

At this very moment some lucky hunter in Southern California might be spying one of those early "beauty bark" morels in a suburban parking lot. Soon reports will march up the West Coast and come in from the South. By April the lower Midwest will be into 'em in a big way and in May—the official Morel Month in the crazed upper Midwestern states—that low buzzing sound will become a roar, as festivals and contests kick off from Boyne City to Muscoda. You can follow the progress here. They're talking in Missouri and Iowa, in West Virginia and Illinois, even in New York and Nebraska.

Here in the West morels are little more peculiar in their fruiting habits—a subject for a future post. In the meantime, like a brewer who tipples his last batch while tending the wort, I've been indulging my own stirrings of morel mania.

Morel & Moth Cream Sauce

Ever since discovering Moth Fest '08 in one of my bags of dried morels picked last spring at the Tripod burn, I've been nervously checking up on the surviving morels to see if any of the infected are still around. It's like an entomological version of 28 Weeks Later. First, I made sure the uninfected bags were sequestered far away from the scene of the crime. Then I quarantined the others. Last week I had to dispose of a fair quantity of wormy morels. The moth larvae preferred the largest specimens because they could burrow easily into the hollow interiors and nestle into deep pits to pupate. Smaller morels were mostly left alone.

After pacing around and inspecting the bag of quarantined mushrooms several times a day—holding the bag up to the light, shaking it a little—I finally decided I couldn't wait to see if I'd missed any incubating eggs and cooked up the entire batch. The usual target of a morel cream sauce is a thick veal chop, but I didn't have time to go searching for dead baby cow in this heavily PC-policed town, so I settled for a Spencer cut of "natural beef."

A morel cream sauce is one of the great pleasures of winter—and it's surprisingly simple to make. All you do is reconstitute the dried morels in warm water, then saute them with diced shallot in butter. De-glaze with a splash of white wine and slowly add beef stock, the leftover mushroom water, and heavy cream, then heat until the sauce reaches desired thickness. A pinch of tarragon adds depth. Moth eggs and larvae are strictly optional.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Beauty bark" morels? Who knew such a thing existed? We surely didn't. What a happy surprise to find them growing in our own backyard. Being both from the suburbs and wary of eating things from our yards, we almost let them go too long.

We just polished off our first plate of them (sauteed simply in butter). What a treat! We'd neglected our palates such treasures for far too long. Thanks for your post!

Jeff & Jesse in Portland, OR