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Morchella angusticeps, M. conica, M. deliciosa, M. esculenta

Besides April showers and May flowers, springtime brings the mushroom hunter some of his or her happiest hours. The small, seductive, yet humble morel becomes the lord of the orchards and forests. So esteemed is this fungus with the hollow pitted hat that its admirers will travel hundreds of miles in its pursuit. Part of the morel's mystique is its ability to blend into the background. That dark, perhaps black, triangle of shadow in the distance. Is it a morel or a pine cone? A piece of bark? A stone? Burned wood? Mushroom collectors will race to it to see if a tasty reward awaits the keenest of eye and swiftest of foot. There are many theories as to the best places to look for these mushrooms, but in the end, everyone admits that morels only grow where the hunter finds them.

Morels -- Click for larger image

A morel of the same species may appear in various colors: Morchella angusticeps within the same forest area may be reddish, gray, black, ashen, or brown. It may be isolated or clumped, and has been found in such unlikely places as damp cellars in San Francisco at Christmastime. Unfortunately, it's a Christmas present you can't count on!

Morels emerge as the snow recedes. They fruit most abundantly on disturbed, burned, or recently cleared ground. They may be found under elms that have just died, or in one- to two-year-old wood chip mulch. They also enjoy popping up in fruit orchards. A plentiful crop does not mean that they can be found in the same area in subsequent years, for morels get bored easily and enjoy traveling. Caps usually begin to appear in April in the Continental United States, although we have harvested them in the first week in July in the Sierra Nevada. Because of its appearance, the morel is sometimes called "the sponge mushroom."

The classification of the Morchella genus intrigues the experts. While they all recognize morels, there is still much uncertainty as to whether there are a few or many species. There is much variation in size and color. To us, differentiation between the species is academic. All kinds are cleaned and cooked in the same manner.

Avoid morels whose caps are soft or mushy, or become granular when rubbed: they are too old and wormy. Morels occasionally contain insect larvae that drop out during the drying process. The mushroom- lovers we know have disregarded this aspect of morel enjoyment. After all, they are very small worms.

Fresh morels are occasionally sold in markets. The price is very high. Select them individually, because each one will be costly. So far, no one has been able to cultivate morels commercially. A company in Felton, California, once harvested them in adequate numbers, but went out of business because they couldn't remove sand from the caps. More recently, a graduate of San Francisco State University developed a technique for growing morels that is now being patented. We hope that his process will soon be converted into a commercially profitable product.


Because of the irregular nature of its surface a morel cannot be rubbed or brushed. You may find this worrisome, wondering about what kind of things lurk in the dark pits ready to jump into your béchamel sauce. Never fear, most morels are very well groomed, and the pits are very shallow. Try not to use water. Even brief soaking removes their flavor, as with other foods such as strawberries. If you must, run water over them rapidly and cook them at once. Cut lengthwise or cross-section them to clean out the centers.


Large specimens may be stuffed through the hollow base, or halved and packed with fillings. Do not discard the stems. Fry or cook morels whole, especially smaller, younger ones.

It is difficult to describe the famous morel flavor. It is nutty, meaty, and unique whether cooked or dried. There is no substitute for butter to bring out its subtle but treasured character. It adjusts extremely well to a light cream sauce with Madeira wine, which can be poured over chicken breasts or thin slices of veal.

Never eat raw morels or raw morel-like mushrooms such as Helvella lacunosa.

Cooking with Dried Morels

The intensity and character of the morel flavor is not lost in drying. We have used them after three years of storage and found them to be just as aromatic, if not more so, as when fresh.

Reconstitute them in hot water for 5 minutes or simmer them in cream until soft, about 15 minutes, not allowing the cream to boil. Always add the rehydrating liquid to the dish for which your morels are intended. A great deal of the flavor remains in the liquid.

When incorporating dried morels in a recipe calling for fresh specimens, use 3 ounces as the equivalent of 1 pound of mushrooms. Once reconstituted, they should be equal in volume.


Morels are easily and quickly dried. You may cut them into smaller pieces or leave them whole. Classically, they are strung like beads on thread using a needle, with a button at the bottom. Hang in a warm, dry place. Dehydrators work well too.

Before placing them in a sealed can or bottle, let them dry for a few days in a paper bag hung in a warm place to allow all moisture to escape. Otherwise, mold contaminants will jeopardize your treasures.

Another good way to preserve morels is to sauté them in butter and freeze.

Morel Cracker Crumb Fry

Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer

Collecting morels in May is a Midwestern American tradition for many admirers of this mushroom. Be sure to keep the mushrooms dry and crisp. Cook small amounts at a time so they can be served hot.

  • 20 to 30 small morels
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten with 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1/2 cup cracker crumbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Roll the morels in the egg mixture. Put the cracker crumbs, salt, and pepper in a paper bag. Quickly shake the morels a few at a time in the bag. Melt the butter with the oil in a sauté pan or skillet. Sauté the morels until brown and crisp.

--Louise Freedman

ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Oyster Mushroom, Puffballs

Morels and Buttermilk

Serves 10 as an appetizer

Harry Knighton, founder and executive secretary of the North American Mycological Association, recommends preparing morels this way.

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 20 to 25 large morels, cut halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Combine the salt, pepper, paprika, sugar, mustard, turmeric, garlic powder, and onion powder with the flour. Dip the morels in the buttermilk and roll in the flour mixture. Melt the butter with the oil in a sauté pan or skillet and sauté the morels until crisp and brown on all sides.

--Harry Knighton


Morels Stuffed with Sausage

Serves 10 as an appetizer

Stuffed morels are great finger food for parties. They harmonize with sherry or a red wine such as zinfandel or cabernet sauvignon.

  • 1 pound finely ground sausage
  • 1 tablespoon minced onion
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup cracker crumbs
  • 20 to 25 large morels, halved lengthwise

In a sauté pan or skillet, fry the sausage quickly and break it into small pieces. Add the chopped onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove as much fat as possible with a spoon. Add the salt and pepper, nutmeg, parsley, and cracker crumbs. Fill the morels with the mixture, mounding the filling. Place the mushrooms in a buttered shallow baking dish. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a preheated 450º oven.

--Kitchen Magic with Mushrooms

ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Common Store Mushroom, Shiitake

Morels Stuffed with Walnuts

Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer

Morels are great for stuffing--especially with bacon and walnuts.

  • 2 shallots or green onions, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 bacon slice, cooked crisp and finely crumbled
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt
  • 10 to 15 large morels, sliced lengthwise

In a sauté pan or skillet, sauté the shallots in the butter until translucent. Stir in the bread crumbs, bacon, and walnuts. Remove from the heat and mix in the cream. Add salt to taste. Stuff the morels, using your fingers. Place the mushrooms in a shallow buttered baking dish and bake in a preheated 450º oven for 20 minutes or until they turn brown.

--Louise Freedman

ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Common Store Mushroom, Horse Mushroom, Meadow Mushroom

Stuffed Morels, Japanese Style

Serves 10 as an appetizer

The stuffing in this recipe is equally tasty with other mushrooms. Try filling common store or shiitake mushrooms with this mixture.

  • 20 large morels, halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 9 canned water chestnuts, minced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot

In a mixing bowl, combine the pork, onion, water chestnuts, soy sauce, five-spice powder, and dry sherry. Stir in the arrowroot. Mound as much filling as will fit into the hollow morels. Arrange the mushrooms in a large baking pan. Bake in a preheated 450º oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

--Louise Freedman

Morels Stuffed with Panade Paste

Serves 12 to 15 as an appetizer

In this dish, whole morels are filled with a rich bacon-flavored stuffing.

    Panade Paste:
  • 4 bacon slices, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
  • White pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup half and half or more
  • 30 to 35 morels, large enough to be filled through the stem
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup Madeira

To make the panade paste, fry the bacon until very crisp. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Allow the bacon to cool. Blend it in a blender or food processor with the parsley until it is almost a paste.

Melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. Add the bread crumbs, bacon-parsley mixture, and the white pepper. Stir for 1 minute or until the bread crumbs are slightly browned. Turn off the heat and blend the cream slowly into the bread crumb mixture until it becomes a pliable paste.

Prepare the morels by trimming the stems to accommodate the filling. Fill each morel, using a pastry bag. Melt 3 to 4 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan or skillet. Sauté the morels until they are brown on all sides. When nearly done, pour the Madeira over the morels. Quickly turn each morel to coat it with the sauce.

--Louise Freedman

Morel Bisque

Serves 4 as a first course

The characteristic flavor of morels is highlighted in this bisque. Add buttery croutons to each soup bowl just before serving, if you like.

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 pound morels, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 2 cups half and half
  • White pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or chives

In a sauté pan or skillet, melt the butter and sauté the onions and the morels for about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the beef broth until well blended. Add the half and half and white pepper. Simmer, but do not allow the soup to boil. Just before serving, add the sherry and salt, and sprinkle the parsley on top.

--Louise Freedman

ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Chanterelle, Fairy-ring Mushroom, Shaggy mane

Steamed Morels

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

Steaming makes morels plump and succulent.

  • 20 to 25 small firm morels
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or parsley
  • Salt and pepper

Steam the morels for 10 minutes. While they are cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the garlic, tarragon, chives, and salt and pepper to taste.

Place the morels in a serving dish and pour the butter sauce over them. Save the liquid from the steamed morels for use with other dishes.

--Bill Freedman

Morels in Madeira Sauce

Serves 4 to 5 as a side dish

Philip Turniey owner-chef of a restaurant in Mariposa, California, prepared our collected morels in this classic way. He served sourdough bread to dip into the sauce that remained.

  • 1 pound morels, split lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup Madeira
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped fresh chives (optional)

In a sauté pan or skillet, sauté the mushrooms in the butter for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove the morels to a warm serving dish with a slotted spoon. Add the Madeira to the pan. Taste the sauce and add salt. Boil rapidly until the liquid is reduced to the consistency of syrup. Pour the sauce over the morels. Sprinkle the chives on top.

--Philip Turniey, Gardenia Cantina Restaurant

Chicken Breasts and Morels

Serves 4 as a main course

Chicken and morels are beautifully matched, especially when served over pasta and accompanied with a dry white wine.

  • 2 dozen fresh morels, sliced, or 2 ounces dried morels and 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 single chicken breasts, skinned, boned, and pounded flat
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1/4 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (use the reserved cream if you have used dried morels)
  • 1/2 teaspoon green peppercorns, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

If using dried morels, simmer them in the cream until soft, about 15 minutes. Do not allow to boil. Reserve the cream.

Flour the chicken breasts lightly. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and the oil in a sauté pan or skillet, and sauté the chicken quickly, about 3 minutes on each side, then remove to a heated pan. Deglaze the pan with brandy. Pour this over the chicken breasts. Place them in a preheated 250º oven while you prepare the sauce.

Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in the same pan. Add the morels and cook until they become semi-dry. Add the beef broth and cream and let it cook down into a sauce. Add the peppercorns, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

Place the chicken breasts on a warm platter and cover with the sauce just before serving.

--Louise Freedman