How to Find Morel Mushrooms
Here in Nebraska, we had several inches of snow, so that means my morel hotspots are probably still a week or more out, if the forecast for more powder next week is any indication. Still, that hasn’t kept me from a few exploratory forays into the woods. Hopefully, you’ve had better weather where you live and the spring mushrooms are starting to show up. If so, hit the woods now and follow these simple tips for finding morels this spring.
1. Take the Temperature
Though the calendar may state that spring is here, in reality, it still feels like winter any many parts of the country. It doesn’t matter how much daylight there is, morels require warm temperatures to pop. Once days are consistently reaching the 60-degree mark and nights aren’t dipping below 40, the mushrooms will start to show themselves. An even better indicator is the temperature of the soil itself. Shove a probe thermometer into the dirt where you hope to find morels. If it reads 50 degrees, morels should start appearing with regularity.
2. Tree I.D.
Although morels grow in many diverse environments, you’ll find them most consistently around certain types of trees. Ash and elm seem to be the fungi’s favorite partner, especially if the latter is dead or dying. Stands of sycamore and poplar are good, too, and an overgrown apple orchard can give up a motherlode. Moist, well-drained loam soil with a good blend of sand, clay, and silt—like the dirt found along creeks and rivers—is also ideal morel habitat.
3. The South Will Rise (First)
Early in morel season, south-facing hillsides will get the most sun, causing them to warm much faster than the north side of hills. Hit these spots first, then move over the rise later in the spring as warm temperatures become more consistent.
4. Feel The Burn
Morels don’t care what your political leanings are. They do, however, love a good burn. Recent fires, clear cuts, and other burned-over or disturbed ground can be a utopia for morels. Combine that with rotting stumps and deadfalls on a warm day following a rain and you’re on your way to finding more morels than you can handle.
5. Deep Cover
When you discover a motherlode of morels, go underground. The moment someone finds out you’re covered up in fresh mushrooms, they’ll hound you for intell. Should you decide to share the bounty by inviting friends over for dinner, at least keep your hunting ground’s location to yourself. No sense in giving up a treasure that you worked so hard to discover.
Five Tips for Cleaning and Cooking Morels
Now that you’ve found some morels, here’s how to prepare them.
1. Wash When Ready:
Though best eaten fresh, morels will maintain a fresh taste and texture when stored in the refrigerator for a few days. The key is to not wash them until just before cooking, as the added moisture will cause them to get soggy. Instead, place them in brown paper bag, fold over the top and place them in the fridge.
2. Clean With Care:
When you’re ready to eat your delicious found treasure, clean the morels thoroughly but carefully. If the stem end is dry or woody, slice the edge off with a sharp knife. Smaller morels can be cleaned as is, but you might consider slicing larger mushrooms in half lengthwise.
3. Rinse Cycle:
You’ll need to wash your morels, but you don’t want them to get too soggy. Some folks prefer to wipe them down with a soft, wet brush, but will all those nooks and crannies, this may not suffice. Instead, rinse them well and pat the mushrooms dry with a paper towel before the go in the pan.
4. Brine Time:
A short soak (about 15 minutes) in a lightly salted brine also helps clean the mushrooms and purges the morels of any creepy crawlies that might still be living in them.
5. Keep It Simple:
There are a lot of recipes for morels, but unless you’ve got a haul, consider taking a simpler approach to preparing spring’s bounty. No sense covering up that rare flavor that only comes around once a year. Salt, pepper, and little butter is the best way to cook morels, in my opinion.
Turkey Marsala with Morels
1 turkey breast, skinned
½ cup flour
Freshly ground black pepper
4–6 Tbsp. butter
1 lb. fresh morels, rinsed and drained
2-3 shallots, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Marsala
1 cup cream
Juice from one lemon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the turkey breast crosswise into 1-inch steaks. Use a meat mallet, rolling pin, or the bottom of a heavy skillet to pound the turkey steaks into cutlets about ¼-inch thick.
In a shallow plate or pie pan, whisk together flour and salt and pepper.
Set a cast-iron skillet, or other, heavy ovenproof skillet, over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan. When the butter foams, dredge the turkey cutlets in the flour, shake off the excess and place in a hot pan. Cook, turning once, until both sides are brown, about 8-10 minutes per side. Cook in batches, adding more butter as necessary. Transfer the browned cutlets to a plate.
Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan, along with the morels, shallots, and garlic. Stir and let cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the Marsala and raise heat to a simmer, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the Marsala has reduced, about 3-4 minutes.
Stir in the cream and lemon juice. Add the cutlets back into the pan, making sure they are covered in the liquid, and transfer the pan to the hot oven.
Bake until the turkey is cooked through, about 12-15 minutes.